DOHA, Qatar, Louis van Gaal’s gambles at both ends of the field paid off for the Netherlands.
Up front, Memphis Depay returned from injury as a second-half substitute to help spark the Dutch attack into life as the Netherlands scored two late goals to beat Senegal 2-0 Monday at the World Cup.
At the back, Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert pulled off three key saves to keep the African champions at bay after Van Gaal decided to give him his international debut in a World Cup game.
Cody Gakpo and substitute Davy Klaasen provided the late goals to ensure the Dutch team’s winning start at its first World Cup appearance since 2014.
Gakpo rose to glance a header in from a cross by Frenkie de Jong in the 84th minute with the team’s first effort on target. Klaasen added a second right at the end of eight minutes of stoppage time by slotting in after Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy only weakly blocked a shot from Depay.
The orange-shirted Dutch fans had been subdued until the late strikes as the Senegalese drums and chants were the dominant sound from the stands for much of the game. But Senegal’s main problem was predictable: Without injured forward Sadio Mane, it couldn’t convert any of its chances.
Depay, who has only just recovered from a hamstring injury, was put on by Van Gaal with about 30 minutes to go after the veteran coach said the day before that he wasn’t sure if the Barcelona forward was ready for action.
He decided to see if he was and Depay responded by playing parts in both goals.
First, he linked up with De Jong near the edge of the area before the midfielder crossed to Gakpo for the first goal. Depay’s run and shot deep in injury time led to the second goal and sealed a Dutch victory.
The best of Noppert’s three strong saves came when he dived low to deny Senegal substitute Pape Gueye when it was 1-0.
The long injury time — it stretched out to nearly nine minutes — was partly because of a serious-looking injury to Senegal central midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, who left on a stretcher clutching his right thigh.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse looked on stony-faced in the first game since his best player was ruled out of the tournament.