Late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen gave the Netherlands a 2-0 win over African champions Senegal on Monday on their return to the World Cup stage.
With Senegal missing injured star Sadio Mane and the Dutch without their main attacking threat Memphis Depay early on, the Group A encounter in Doha looked set to end in a goalless draw.
But with just six minutes remaining, PSV Eindhoven striker Gakpo rose in front of Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to head in Frankie de Jong’s cross from the left.
Substitute Klaassen then secured the win deep into stoppage time before scoring after Mendy saved from Depay, who also came off the bench.
The result leaves the Netherlands top of the group with Ecuador, who beat hosts Qatar 2-0 in their tournament opener on Sunday.
Louis van Gaal’s side play Ecuador on Friday, while Senegal now face a must win against Qatar.
Senegal saw Bayern Munich superstar Mane — who was runner-up in this year’s Ballon d’Or — withdraw from the squad with a leg injury ahead of the tournament.
His absence was clearly felt as the match at Al Toumama Stadium – played to a backdrop of non-stop drumming and dancing by the Senegalese support, but also in front of a sizeable number of empty seats – never lived up to its billing.
Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye came closest to scoring for Senegal with a half-volley from the edge of the box that was beaten by Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert in the 73rd minute.
Knoppert, Heerenveen’s giant goalkeeper making his international debut, was also superb with second-half saves from Boule Dia and Pape Gueye as the Netherlands played their first World Cup game in eight years.
The three-time runners-up were semi-finalists under Van Gaal in Brazil in 2014 before failing to qualify for the last World Cup in Russia in 2018.
The Dutch team was captained by Virgil van Dijk, who made his debut at a major international tournament on the occasion of his 50th appearance.
With Matthijs de Ligt and Nathan Ake alongside him, they were mostly comfortable at the back but made some inroads before Barcelona striker Depay – who scored 12 goals in qualifying – came on in the final half hour.
With Depay unable to start after spending two months on the sidelines, ex-Tottenham striker Vincent Janssen spearheaded Holland’s attack but he failed to make much of an impact.
However, Gakpo finally broke the deadlock and, as Senegal pressed for an equaliser, Depay played his part in Ajax midfielder Klaassen’s goal that clinched the points in the ninth extra minute.