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Paul McGrath: ‘Stephen Kenny will like what he saw from Ireland’s Euro 2024 rivals’

Ireland will play the Dutch twice next year in Euro 2024 qualifying and we are big outsiders to qualify

Ecuador's Enner Valencia reacts after scoring his side's goal against the Netherlands. Photo: AP Photo© AP

Paul McGrathSunday World

It seems daft to write this, but Stephen Kenny won’t have been too worried by what he saw from the Netherlands against Ecuador at the World Cup last Friday.

Ireland will play the Dutch twice next year in Euro 2024 qualifying and we are big outsiders to qualify automatically from a real ‘Group of Death’ that includes France and Greece.

Yes, the Boys in Green are no great shakes at the moment.

But, going on what I saw on Friday, when Netherlands drew with Ecuador, the current Oranje are also a pale shade of the great teams I played against, when class acts such as Ruud Gullit, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp and the rest were the opposition.

The only time the Dutch suggested that they had any quality to be measured against those lads was through Cody Gakpo’s early goal.

It was a fabulous strike — unstoppable. It was a World Cup glimpse of what he can do.

Gakpo is versatile too, and can play as a winger, a central striker or just behind the main striker.

This young lad is on the radar of every top club across Europe.

Take it from me, by next summer, at the latest, he will not be a PSV Eindhoven player.

And yet, even Gakpo (pictured below) went missing after his brilliant effort. We hardly saw him again during the match.

It was as if all of Holland’s players just settled menatally for, “we’re one up, that will do — we’ll pick these lads off on the counter-attack when they come at us”.

Even when Ecuador scored and pulled the match back to 1-1, the Dutch were curiously passive.

They seemed happy to take the draw, knowing that Friday’s point means a win over now eliminated Qatar on Tuesday will see them advance to the last 16.

Head coach Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands looks on prior the World Cup, group A soccer match between Senegal and Netherlands at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)© AP/PA Images

As for counter-attacking, well they never did it.

Holland’s players couldn’t get the ball off the Ecuadoreans, who just drove forward almost at will and were well worth at least a draw.

Maybe Holland didn’t fancy the physical side of it, for Ecuador were putting themselves about, with plenty of niggling at the Dutch mixed with a few straightforward thumping challenges from behind.

On a side issue, I hope FIFA put one of their very best refs in charge of Ecuador v Senegal on Tuesday.

If Ecuador draw that game, they are through — Senegal have to win it and we have seen from the Senegalese in their two matches that they fancy a tackle too.

That one could get spicy and there will need to be a firm hand on the tiller.

Ireland have played their best football under Stephen Kenny on the counter-attack.

On Friday’s evidence, we will get the chance to play that way against their Dutch.

At times, their defensive midfield was often poor and left a three-man central defence exposed — even with a great player like Virgil van Dijk at its heart.

It was strange to see how Ecuador were just able to run through and around the Dutch defence at times.

You almost thought the Netherlands were playing ‘rope-a-dope’ with Ecuador and were ready to strike like Muhammad Ali used to do years ago.

But no, they hardly had a shot on target after the one that flashed into Ecuador’s net.

The likelihood is that Ireland will face a very different Dutch side next year, one that will be managed by Ronald Koeman when Louis van Gaal steps away after the World Cup.

Koeman may well tear up whatever script van Gaal is working to, because it wasn’t working in Qatar last Friday night.

Whatever the issue is, Holland didn’t look like world-beaters on Friday night, when they had so much to play for.

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