France beats Netherlands 3-2, match stops for Cruyff tribute
AMSTERDAM (AP) — France recovered from a Dutch rally to beat the Netherlands 3-2 on Friday, showing flashes of the attacking flair that will make it a serious contender at the European Championship it hosts later this year.
The Dutch showed second-half spirit in the international friendly but also the defensive frailties that saw them fail to qualify for the tournament.
The Netherlands recovered from a two-goal deficit before France captain Blaise Matuidi slotted in the winner in the 88th minute, two minutes after substitute Ibrahim Afellay had levelled the scores.
The emotionally charged match at Amsterdam Arena was preceded by a minute’s silence for victims of the Brussels bombings. The game halted in the 14th minute to pay tribute to Johan Cruyff with a minute’s applause — a day after the Ajax and Barcelona great lost his battle with lung cancer at age 68. Cruyff wore No. 14 for Ajax, the club where he launched his career.
The moving tribute to the Netherlands’ greatest player came just after Olivier Giroud had pounced on the ball from a corner and fired into the corner to put the French 2-0 up.
As the players stood still and applauded, the crowd rose to stand and also clapped, with some of them unfurling a giant banner showing a photo of Cruyff, his arms spread wide, wearing the Netherlands’ trademark orange shirt with No. 14 on his back.
Conceding early goals was a recurring problem in the failed Dutch qualification campaign for Euro 2016 and the curse struck again at the Amsterdam Arena.
Antoine Griezmann gave France the lead in just the 6th minute, firing in a free kick after the hapless Dutch defense had failed to clear the ball following a dangerous shot by Dimitri Payet.
“We played a good first half, but were less good after the break,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “But the Dutch also started playing better.”
The Dutch team was hard hit by injuries as it began early preparations for its 2018 World Cup qualification campaign. Coach Danny Blind was missing three defenders he originally named in his squad through injuries - Ron Vlaar, Erik Pieters and Daryl Janmaat. The home team also was without captain and winger Arjen Robben.
Compounding the Dutch woes, stand-in captain Wesley Sneijder limped off 36 minutes into his 121st international appearance and was replaced by Riechedly Bazoer for only his second cap.
While the match was overshadowed by Cruyff’s death, Blind chose to field a 5-3-2 formation instead of Cruyff’s cherished 4-3-3. The more defensive setup did little to stem the flow of French attacks and made the Netherlands toothless when it did advance forward before the break.
Deschamps rested goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and started with Steve Mandanda in goal. With Karim Benzema still out of the France team, Deschamps had a front three of Giroud, Griezmann and Payet, with Lyon right back Christophe Jallet also a threat on the overlap.
Blind brought on Memphis Depay and Afellay to provide more attacking impetus after the break and it paid off immediately with a Depay free kick turned into the goal in the 47th by Luuk de Jong, although replays appeared to show the ball hitting the PSV striker’s arm.
“The first Dutch goal was handball,” Deschamps said. “The second goal was a lapse in concentration.”
Payet nearly restored the two-goal cushion on the hour, but his shot hit the post and as France appeared to drop down a gear, Davy Klaassen came close to equalizing with a spectacular volley just a minute later.
Afellay finally made the Dutch pressure pay when he neatly turned in a corner in the 86th, only for France to pour forward from the restart and cap a flowing move with Matuidi’s winner.
Elsewhere in a friendly featuring two Euro 2016-bound teams, Ireland beat Switzerland 1-0 with a 2nd -minute goal by defender Ciaran Clark at the Dublin Arena, while Slovakia — drawn in Group B along with England, Wales and Russia— could only manage a goalless draw with Latvia.
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to convert a second-half penalty against Bulgaria goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov as Portugal lost 1-0 at home with a 19th-minute goal by Marcelinho.