Netherlands fail to reach World Cup play-offs despite Arjen Robben brace
World Cup qualifying Group A, Amsterdam ArenA - Netherlands 2 (Robben 16, 40) Sweden 0
An Arjen Robben brace was not enough to help the Netherlands qualify for the 2018 World Cup as opponents Sweden sealed a play-off place.
After the game, the 33-year-old confirmed his retirement from the Dutch national team.
The hosts needed a 7-0 victory to leapfrog the Swedes in the standings, but Dick Advocaat’s side failed to take advantage of several first-half opportunities that could have brought them close to that unlikely outcome.
The Dutch started brightly and created numerous chances in the opening 15 minutes - thanks in no small part to Robben's tireless contributions - but were kept at bay by a Swedish defence that had only conceded seven goals in qualification before coming to the Amsterdam ArenA.
As the surprisingly buoyant home crowd cheered on, the deadlock was broken when Victor Lindelof clumsily kicked the ball into his own arm to concede a penalty. Robben - who foreshadowed his retirement announcement by shedding tears as the Dutch national anthem played before the game - nearly saw his audacious chipped spot kick kept out by Robin Olsen.
Vincent Janssen and Kenny Tete squandered gilt-edged chances before Robben produced a moment of magic, deftly curling a left-footed shot into the net from the edge of the area. It was the Netherlands captain’s sixth goal in seven qualifiers.
The tempo lowered significantly in the second half, with the visitors showing a low level of ambition going forward. Janne Andersson’s side will not have gained much confidence from this performance ahead of their playoff.
Sweden will now have the chance to advance to their first World Cup finals since 2006, while the Dutch go back to the drawing board, without their captain, to contemplate their next steps.
Swedish players react at the endGetty Images
How will the Netherlands get back on track? The Dutch will miss out on consecutive tournaments for the first time since the 1980s (when they watched Euro ’84 and the World Cups of 1982 and 1986 on TV). Their golden generation has come and gone, and there seems to be a dearth of talent coming from the once-great footballing nation.
Their failure in the 1980s was a catalyst for one of the greatest national teams of all time—will their current problems also inspire greatness?
MAN OF THE MATCH
Nathan Ake (Netherlands): Playing on the left side of a back four, the 22-year-old was at the heart of many of the home side's attacking movements. In addition to peppering the Swedish box with crosses all night, the Bournemouth man was on top defensive form, preventing several dangerous opportunities.
Arjen Robben, NetherlandsGetty Images
16' - GOAL! Netherlands 1-0 Sweden. Robben scores - Robben coverts his fifth goal of qualifying chipping his penalty low down the middle. Olsen gets a foot to it and nearly saves - Robben is lucky to have scored with a risky technique.
35' - CHANCE! Augustinsson swings a cross onto Berg's head, and the ball loops towards goal. Ake clears the danger, but not before tangling with his own 'keeper. Berg looks frsutrated as he should have done better.
40' - GOAL! Netherlands 2-0 Sweden. Robben again - Babel runs down the left flank again and picks out Robben on the edge of the area. The Bayern star hits it first time into the far-right corner. An absolutely superb finish.
88' - CHANCE! Robben picks up the ball in the area and charges in from the right. His left-footed shot is saved by Olsen. The crowd roars with approval for their captain.
Arjen Robben Getty Images
Arjen Robben was the Netherlands’ top goalscorer in qualification with six goals from seven appearances.
Robben scored 37 goals from 96 internationals.
Sweden haven't lost by more than three goals in this millennium and their heaviest defeat was a 6-0 shellacking in Denmark in June 1989.