Virgil van Dijk praised Justin Bijlow for his injury-time save against Latvia as the Netherlands scraped a 1-0 win in World Cup qualifying.
Davy Klaassen’s volley after 19 minutes proved enough for Louis van Gaal’s men to take all three points in Riga on Friday.
The Oranje were largely uninspiring, though, with 78 per cent of the possession yielding just four shots on target against a side who have won only three World Cup qualifiers since 2013. In their previous six qualifiers, they had averaged 11 attempts on target per game.
Latvia twice came close to an equaliser, the first just a minute after the goal when Van Dijk lost possession near halfway and Klaassen was forced into two blocks in the penalty area.
Then, in second-half stoppage time, Feyenoord goalkeeper Bijlow made a one-handed save to deny Igors Tarasovs after the visitors failed to clear a corner.
“It’s a game everyone expects you to win,” Van Dijk told NOS. “That’s only normal, I think. Luckily, we did that.
“We created a lot of chances, and they had a few dangerous moments after our mistakes. But yes, it’s three points. That’s very important in terms of World Cup qualification. It’s what we came for.
“We analysed Latvia well, and they’re a team who don’t give up. They keep running. It’s not that they put you under a lot of pressure, but they play very opportunistically when they have the ball. We knew it wouldn’t be over with a 1-0 lead.
“I think we had chances, but the second goal didn’t come in the end. Then you have to do everything you can to keep the clean sheet and take the three points. We were successful in that, partly thanks to a good save by Justin at the end.”
The victory allowed the Netherlands to move two points clear at the top of Group G after Norway drew 1-1 away to Turkey.
With their next match at home to Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their games, Van Gaal’s side could put themselves in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022.
“[The Norway draw] was a very favourable result for us, but we have to do things ourselves. It’s in our own hands,” said Van Dijk.
“On Monday, we have to take another three points against Gibraltar, hopefully with a great atmosphere in the stadium.”