Blaise Matuidi scored a dramatic late winner for France in a thrilling international friendly against the Netherlands on Friday, with the visitors notching a fine 3-2 win at the Amsterdam Arena.
On a night that saw the home crowd pay homage to Oranje icon Johan Cruyff, who sadly died on Thursday, goals by Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud gave the visitors an early lead.
After the break, Luuk de Jong halved the deficit with a disputed goal, before Ibrahim Afellay bagged a late equaliser for the hosts. But the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder pounced two minutes from time to give Les Bleus a deserved triumph on the night.
It was always going to be an emotional evening for the Netherlands fans and players, but France were ruthless in their early attacking forays.
Within five minutes Didier Deschamps’ team sent out an emphatic indicator of their quality, too, with Griezmann’s wonderful free-kick putting Les Bleus in front. With set-piece expert Dimitri Payet also standing over the ball, you had to feel for Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, who was fooled by the routine.
It was a fine strike by the Atletico Madrid man nevertheless, as we can see here, via Football Super Tips:
France 1-0 up!— Football Super Tips (@FootySuperTips) March 25, 2016
Cracking free kick from Griezmann!https://t.co/GQqJKhyFpp
The goal was indicative of a man in fine goalscoring form; as these statistics from WhoScored.com show, Griezmann is making his case for a starting spot at the summer championships:
Antoine Griezmann: Has scored in 6 of his last 7 appearances for club and country #NEDFRA— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 25, 2016
Before long, the French doubled their advantage, with the hosts again undone by a set piece. On this occasion, the finger could be pointed at the Dutch defenders, who failed to clear a corner in the 13th minute, allowing Arsenal striker Giroud to prod home from close range.
As the players lined up for the kick-off from that goal, the home crowd began their tribute to Cruyff, with play coming to a halt in the 14th minute—the number the great man wore on his shirt. Here is a look at some of the tributes the Amsterdam crowd paid:
14' ♥️ Johan Cruijff. pic.twitter.com/Xa2iCL6S8K— Dutch Goals And More (@DutchGoalsAMore) March 25, 2016
Once the game resumed, the pattern of the opening exchanges was preserved, as the French continued with their vice-like grip on the contest.
Griezmann, in particular, was difficult to contain for the Dutch defenders. Some clever movement saw him nod a header inches past the post, and later in the half, Cillessen stopped his stinging effort.
Netherlands captain Wesley Sneijder suffered an injury before the interval, capping a miserable 45 minutes for the hosts. Dutch football journalist Elko Born did not hold back in his assessment of the home side's efforts:
Another inadequate performance from Holland tonight. This is the worst Dutch team of my life time. I don't even know where to begin.— Elko Born (@Elko_B) March 25, 2016
Deschamps brought on three players at the interval, including Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante for his France debut. Dutch boss Danny Blind also introduced Memphis Depay and Afellay, with the former making an immediate impact.
The Manchester United man’s free-kick found its way through to De Jong, who bundled it home. There was more than a fair share of controversy about the goal, with the PSV Eindhoven forward seeming to divert the ball in with his arm.
Former Norway international Jan Aage Fjortoft didn't think it should have stood:
Van Basten and Van Nistelrooy on the bench for Holland. They just saw De Jong scoring with his hand.— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) March 25, 2016
Holland -France 1-2
The goal did buoy the hosts, who were improved in the early stages of the second period, as Davy Klaassen came close to levelling things up.
Yet France always seemed to have more gears to go through, as was evident when Payet struck the post with a delightful long-range effort.
The Copa90 Twitter feed was impressed with the display the West Ham United playmaker turned in during his return to the France side:
What a game Payet's had! #NEDvFRA— Copa90 (@Copa90) March 25, 2016
That effort was just prior to a flurry of late changes, which often sap the momentum from international encounters. But in this instance, they seemed to set the game ablaze in the final stages.
The Dutch continued to press forward, and with five minutes remaining, they bagged a vital equaliser through Afellay, who drilled home a powerful shot from the edge of the area.
But France were awoken by the equaliser and immediately moved back toward the levels that were on display in the opening period with some purposeful attacking play.
After a tireless display in the heart of midfield, it was only apt that it was Matuidi who netted the winning goal, too. He was on hand to latch onto Anthony Martial's neat pass following a surging run from deep, breaking the hearts of the hosts; here's a look at what proved to be the winning goal, via Born:
Matuidi makes it 2-3 to France immediately after Holland's equaliser. https://t.co/aKzPxehQy2— Elko Born (@Elko_B) March 25, 2016
It was a huge surprise to many when the Dutch failed to qualify for the summer’s major tournament. But few will be shocked after watching this display, especially in the opening 45 minutes. The Oranje were well off the pace in every facet of the field, and while there were signs of improvement in the second period, there's still a long way for this side to go.
By contrast, France seem to be riding the crest of a wave. There is depth in almost every position and a wonderful blend of youth and experience, plus a willingness to fight for every ball.
Deschamps’ side are going to be difficult to stop at UEFA Euro 2016; the remarkable finish to Friday's game was emphatic proof of that.
Deschamps was particularly impressed with the performance of Payet in the aftermath of the contest, per the Daily Mail's Adam Shergold:
Didier Deschamps is impressed by Dimitri Payet's performance tonight: 'He was very good... he is confirming his good form. I will need him'— Adam Shergold (@adamjshergold) March 25, 2016
The Dutch Football Twitter account relayed Blind's comments after the game, insisting there are positives to take from the performance:
Danny Blind, "From such a game you learn. So I can live with a defeat against a team that in many facets are much further than we are. "— Dutch Football (@football_oranje) March 25, 2016