Holland strike late to dash Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 hopes
Euro 2020 Qualifying Group C
Netherlands 3 Northern Ireland 1
SEVILLE oranges have a bitter taste and Northern Ireland will still be feeling sick long after this desperately disappointing defeat.
The visitors seemed to have earned the point they craved, having even gone ahead through a goal from substitute Josh Magennis, until Sevilla forward Luuk de Jong broke their hearts with a scrappy winner in added time.
Former Manchester United man Memphis Depay, who had struck the 80th minute equaliser, then doubled his tally even later on to double the lead and confirm the victory which moves the Dutch above NI in the group on goal difference.
A slice of orange was always a footballing treat and a couple from Dutch defenders led to the astonishing scoreline of 0-1 – but the miracle couldn't last.
Almost everyone in this packed stadium had come expecting a procession but the orange march was halted for much of this game by a magnificent defensive display from Northern Ireland.
Even more amazingly, the visitors led, albeit for only five minutes, with a well-taken 75th minute goal from Magennis.
The Netherlands then grabbed the leveller that all their pressure surely deserved when lively sub Donyell Malen slipped a square pass to Depay and he poked a low shot beyond the reach of Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
After that it was almost entirely one-way traffic, with Malen heading a good opportunity down but wide, then Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum also wasting yet another chance.
It seemed like the masters of stemming tides were going to be taught a lesson in that regard by their visitors until the Dutch somehow conjured up a second goal. Indeed, from the equaliser onwards, it was as if the floodgates had finally opened.
Ronald Koeman had handed a first start since the group opener against Belarus in March to 22-year-old PSV winger Steven Bergwijn and it was his deep cross that caused the problem.
The ball flicked off the head of a defender and 29-year-old de Jong stretched out his right leg like Inspector Gadget to keep the ball in play before using the same long limb to flick the ball to the net at the far post.
Into the fourth minute of added time Frenkie de Jong embarked on a mazy run before releasing Depay, who coolly rolled his shot inside that same upright.
The scoreline at the end was not a surprise, either based on pre-match predictions or the overall context of the match, but the manner of the defeat will be hugely galling for Northern Ireland, not least because it makes automatic qualification almost impossible now, with the Dutch coming to Belfast next month before the final NI game in Germany.
The visiting fans might well have felt at home, due to the colour orange everywhere, the smattering of red, white, and blue, and even the fact that green and white are the colours of the Rotterdam city flag. To add to any potential confusion, Northern Ireland lined out in their icy blue away kit.
The Dutch are certainly comfortable here, having won their previous 14 matches at this venue, with only Germany having denied them victory with a 2-2 draw in 2005.
The pre-match perception was that the loss through injury of left-back Jamal Lewis was a serious blow, and that replacing him with Shane Ferguson would be a gamble, but the Millwall men had a terrific first half.
Michael O'Neill also sprang another slight surprise by selecting Kyle Lafferty as the lone striker, which was always likely to be a tough task against home captain Virgil van Dijk and his fellow centre half, Matthijs de Ligt of Juventus.
Both those Dutch defenders delivered long balls very early on, seeking to stretch the visiting rearguard, but they weren't troubled by aerial approaches, with Stuart Dallas doubling up on the right to help out Michael Smith at right-back.
Barcelona new boy Frenkie de Jong was the man tasked with making the Dutch tick, and he got on the ball even more than he would with his club, but was allowed little time to make use of his plentiful possession.
As anticipated, this quickly became a game of attack v defence, with the Dutch dominating possession and territory – but NI held out very well before the break, even if some loose passing meant they had to absorb even more pressure than they would have liked.
Still, Peacock-Farrell wasn't truly troubled at all, and the home support was extremely quiet, utterly out-sung by the superb ‘Green and White Army'.
Northern Ireland even began the second half brightly, but the familiar first half pattern of play soon returned.
Only a brilliant bit of tracking back by George Saville denied right-back Denzel Dumfries an almost certain goal and the visitors collected several yellow cards as the Dutch racked up the intensity.
Bergwijn probably should have done better than flick weakly at a dinked pass over the top of the defence from Depay but the Dutch could not make the breakthrough.
Astoundingly, Northern Ireland did, after both de Ligt and Daley Blind sliced at a cross – but Dallas still did superbly to get on the ball and swing it back over for Magennis to head down and in.
The dream died in the end, as has any realistic hope of direct qualification, but this performance should still live long in the memory, even after the disappointment has faded.