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Dutch into Nations League finals on dramatic draw in Germany

November 19, 2018
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Netherland's Virgil Van Dijk, left, and Germany's Thomas Mueller challenge for the ball during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Germany and The Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) — A dramatic comeback sent the Netherlands to the UEFA Nations League finals after ending Germany’s nightmare year with yet more disappointment in a 2-2 draw on Monday.

The comeback meant the Dutch — who missed the last European Championship and World Cup — qualified ahead of world champion France to join England, Switzerland, and Portugal in next year’s inaugural Final Four.

At 2-0 down to Germany in the 85th minute, Dutch hopes of reaching the Nations League finals looked long gone.

But Quincy Promes curled a shot past Manuel Neuer, and defender Virgil van Dijk — playing as a makeshift striker — volleyed in a second for the point the Netherlands needed. For all the talk of their young players, the Netherlands’ more experienced personnel made the difference.

After failing to qualify for two consecutive major tournaments, the Netherlands was widely considered the favorite for relegation in the Nations League when drawn against Germany and France in January.

With Ronald Koeman in his first year as coach and Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong giving the team a shot of youthful energy, the Netherlands’ campaign proved it once again belonged with the continent’s big names. At home, the Dutch beat Germany 3-0 and new world champion France 2-0, but struggled to maintain the same form away until the last five minutes of Monday’s game.

Germany had already been relegated to League B, capping a year coach Joachim Loew called “a slap in the face” after a group-stage exit at the World Cup. Some in the stands called for Loew to step down after 12 years in charge, though his team dominated most of the game against the Dutch before the sudden late collapse.

The Germans showed sublime skill for Timo Werner’s ninth-minute opening goal, Serge Gnabry flicking the ball for the striker to head on before unleashing a powerful low shot from long range.

One of the Netherlands’ much-heralded young talents, defender de Ligt, was at fault for the second goal. Faced with Leroy Sane struggling to control the ball, de Ligt mistimed his challenged entirely, leaving Sane to hit a shot which took a deflection off Kenny Tete.

Germany couldn’t find a third goal to finish off the Netherlands, though Gnabry went close with a header in the 40th and Werner dragged a shot wide in the 63rd.

The Dutch sprang to life in the dying minutes.

In the 85th, Germany failed to clear the ball and ignored Promes lurking on the edge of the penalty area. When the ball finally reached him, he had plenty of time to send a curling shot to the top-right corner past Neuer’s outstretched arm.

With nothing to lose, defender and captain Van Dijk went up front as a makeshift forward, using his height and strength in the buildup to his dramatic leveler. Tonny Vilhena picked up the ball on the right flank and sent in a cross which glanced off a German head for Van Dijk to volley past the exasperated Neuer.

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