Last week, after the Netherlands snatched victory in the 94th minute in Cardiff, Gareth Bale conceded that Wales must master the dark arts and add a streetwise streakif they are to prosper at their first World Cup in 64 years. After Memphis Depay rattled in a stoppage‑time winner here, seconds after Bale equalised from the penalty spot, it was an agonising case of deja vu. But even if another game against the same opposition ended in maddening fashion, succumbing to defeat at the last for the second time in six days, Wales may be the only of the home nations to come out of the past fortnight of never-ending matches with any discernible credit.
Twenty minutes before kick‑off the stadium announcer made a point of congratulating Wales on reaching Qatar 2022 and while they appear generally in rude health, this was another galling denouement.
Bale, who entered from the bench with 20 minutes to play, levelled two minutes into added time but Depay, also a substitute, feasted on some sloppy defending to render Wales’s comeback worthless. Brennan Johnson’s second nerveless finish in four days had pulled a goal back after the Netherlands raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of Noa Lang and Cody Gakpo.
Afterwards, Bale could be forgiven for thinking he was repeating himself. “It’s hard to take but I’d rather this happen now and we address it than it happen at the World Cup,” he said. “We have to use these Nations League games to improve and get better. I was saying in the changing room, we’re in league A playing against big teams, and of course we are disappointed we conceded late, but we’re competing with these big teams in every game now and it’s just the finer details we need to iron out. If we can do that it will put us in a good place for the World Cup.”
Louis van Gaal has never been one to mince his words and so his criticism of De Kuip on the eve of this game was in keeping with his character. The Netherlands – and former Ajax – manager described Feyenoord’s stadium as “a load of old crap”, a pristine pitch its only redeeming feature, and complained about having to do his half-time team talk against Poland last Saturday with his back to a dozen of his players owing to space constraints. However, his side certainly seem to enjoy playing here and it is now 30 matches without defeat in Rotterdam.
In the buildup to the first goal the Ipswich wing-back Wes Burns, who was replaced by Connor Roberts at the break, was guilty of overcomplicating things, allowing Jordan Teze to turn over possession. Vincent Janssen located Lang and he swivelled clear of Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon before leathering in. Six minutes later Gakpo curled in after his initial shot pinballed off Rodon and then Mepham and kindly into his path.
But Wales, all in yellow, responded when Daniel James pickpocketed Teze high up the pitch. Harry Wilson slipped in Johnson, who took the pass in his stride before nonchalantly stroking a first‑time finish through the legs of Matthijs de Ligt, across the goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and into the far pocket of the Netherlands net.
In the absence of Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who arrived with 63 minutes on the clock, Johnson was Wales’s go-to player and caused mischief throughout. But Bale slotted in from 12 yards when Tyrell Malacia upended Roberts in the box, only for Depay to have the final say after Wales showed a softness in defence as the game ticked into the third minute of stoppage time.
“We didn’t win the first header, we didn’t win the second contact and you give teams like that and players like him [Depay] half a chance, it’s in the back of the net,” the Wales manager, Robert Page, said. “That’s the learning curve for us. We have to be ruthless and see games out, so it is a lesson learnt. But in the camp overall, there’s too many positives to be down about it.”