The Eredivisie was on hiatus this weekend, as were most European leagues, but there was plenty of international action in store for football fans. The most notable match was in Sofia, as Bulgaria hosted a Dutch team consisting of debutant Matthijs de Ligt and a host of other Eredivisie players. Besides playing in other World Cup Qualifying matches across Europe, Holland’s first division stars were on show in Africa, North America, South America, East Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Not only does this showcase the talent that many Dutch First Division players possess, but also the expansive and intricate scouting systems deployed by a lot of Eredivisie clubs. Without further ado, let us see how they performed.
The international matches kicked off on Thursday with the Asian World Cup Qualifying matches. Iran, the top team in Group A, visited Qatar, the soon-to-be bottom team, in a match that saw AZ’s star winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh start for the Iranians in a 1-0 win. Heerenveen striker Reza Ghoochannejhad was on the bench for the Iranians as well. South Korea looked to challenge Iran at the top when they faced off against China in Changsha, China, but the bottom-dwelling Chinese found a way to win 1-0. 20-year-old Vitesse striker Yuning Zhang made a substitute appearance in the 76th minute for China as they closed out the win.
Friday featured a mixture of some World Cup Qualifiers and friendlies, the latter of which featured a couple Eredivisie players. South Africa beat Guinea-Bissau in a friendly, with Ajax outcast Thulani Serero and Twente middle-man Kamohelo Mokotjo putting in a 90-minute shift for the 3-1 winners. The Ivory Coast visited Russia in another friendly match; Den Haag defender Wilfried Kanon started at left-back for the away side, providing an assist in a 2-0 win.
South American nations battled out their WC Qualifiers on Friday as well, with two high profile matches in Uruguay-Brazil and Argentina-Chile, neither of which Eredivisie players featured. However, Feyenoord midfielder Renato Tapia started for his native Peru as they drew 2-2 away to Venezuela. Ajax’s star defender Davinson Sanchez and PSV’s right-back Santiago Arias were on the bench for Colombia, but didn’t make an appearance in their country’s 1-0 win over Bolivia.
The CONCACAF (North America, Central America, Caribbean) qualifiers saw a lot of excitement, including a 6-0 win for the United States over Honduras. AZ’s young winger Levi Garcia came off the bench for Trinidad and Tobago against Panama and was able to secure his home nation’s 1-0 win. Mexico beat Costa Rico 2-0; PSV’s defensive stalwart Hector Moreno kept a clean sheet in defense.
Saturday compiled a bulk of the international action this weekend, kicking off with the Oceania WC Qualifiers. Fiji hosted New Zealand in what should have been a walkover for the visiting Black Caps. The game finished 2-0 to New Zealand, with PEC Zwolle’s attacker Ryan Thomas making a second-half substitute appearance for the away side.
Now, back to Europe. In Group I, Vitesse’s Guram Kashia played a full match for Georgia, but was defeated by Serbia 3-1. Oleksandr Zinchenko, PSV’s loanee from Manchester City, looked on from the bench as his Ukrainian teammates lost to Croatia 1-0. Sparta’s Janne Saksela was also on the bench for Finland, while Twente’s loaned striker Enes Unal was a late sub for Turkey as Turkey coasted by Finland 2-0. To wrap up the group, Kosovo lost to Iceland 2-1, but Vitesse’s winger Milot Rashica was subbed off for Twente’s loan player Bersant Celina in the second-half.
In Group A, Sweden dismantled Belarus 4-0. Heerenveen winger Sam Larsson featured on the bench for the winners. The big match in the group, however, was Bulgaria vs. The Netherlands. In a virtual must-win for the Dutch, they capitulated and lost 2-0. Manager Danny Blind chose to start debutant 17-year-old center-back Matthijs de Ligt after his good performances for Ajax, a decision he would soon regret. De Ligt missed a header that saw Bulgaria’s striker knock the ball past PSV’s Jeroen Zoet and score the opener. Later in the first half, de Ligt’s clearing header ended up at the foot of Bulgaria’s striker once again, who struck a longshot into the net to double the home side’s lead.
De Ligt was subbed off at halftime, but Feyenoord’s Rick Karsdorp and Ajax’s Davy Klaassen completed the 90 minutes on the pitch, despite how lackluster they performed. Ajax’s Nick Viergever, Joel Veltman, and Kenny Tete were on the bench, as well as Feyenoord’s Tonny Vilhena and Jens Toornstra. PSV striker Luuk de Jong made a second-half substitute appearance in an attempt to score some goals, but was not fortuitous. The Dutch FA decided to part ways with Danny Blind following the horrible match, a decision met with much applause by the national team fans. Finally, N.E.C.’s defender Dario Dumic was on the bench for Bosnia and Herzegovina as they ran out 5-0 winners over Gibraltar.
On Sunday, there was a pretty good amount of action for Eredivisie player enthusiasts. England hosted Lithuania in a game that paired Den Haag’s goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus against some of Europe’s best attackers. Lithuania lost 2-0, but Setkus took a lot of credit because of the 7 saves he made. Romania drew 0-0 with Denmark as Ajax’s deep-lying playmaker Lasse Schone put in a 69-minute shift for the Scandinavian side. Lastly, Northern Ireland beat Norway 2-0, but AZ’s Norwegian defender Jonas Svensson didn’t appear off of the bench.
For Dutch football as a whole, this weekend was full of despair and sorrow after the Dutch national side fell to 4th in a group featuring France and Sweden at the top where only the top 2 can mathematically qualify for the World Cup. There seems to be a call for change in the structure of Holland’s football organization and the sacking of Danny Blind is certainly a start. Not all eyes were completely on the Dutch team (thankfully), as Ernestas Setkus provided a solid game against a great England side in a season full of underachievement for his ADO Den Haag. Alireza Jahanbakhsh continues to shine for a high-flying Iran, while China’s Zhang and Peru’s Tapia are steadily molding great international careers at young ages. If The Netherlands doesn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, there will surely still be some great Eredivisie players on show to enjoy.