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Blind pays price for De Ligt risk as Netherlands crumble in key World Cup qualifier

22:19 GMT 25/03/2017
Matthijs De Ligt Netherlands Bulgaria World Cup qualifier
The Dutch are left in a bad position in their World Cup qualifying group after their 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria and questions must be asked of the coach


If Matthijs de Ligt has been flying high over the last few months, the 17-year-old defender was brought crashing back down on his Netherlands debut in Friday’s 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria.

Lining up for the World Cup qualifier with a back line that partnered De Ligt with Bruno Martins Indi in the centre and Daley Blind on the left looked horribly vulnerable on paper and proved to be just that.

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And so, De Ligt had the painful experience of being at fault for the opening goal, helping in the second and being taken off at half time.

As a clearly talented and bright young centre-back, he will bounce back and the experience of being in a squad with Memphis Depay, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will be a positive one overall for a player set for a bright future.

It is instead coach Danny Blind who may struggle to regain some credibility with such a risk, as an abysmal performance from his side leaves them six points behind Group A leaders France, three behind Sweden and two adrift of Bulgaria.

The game was already seen as a must-win one for Oranje, and Blind gave his side little chance with the way they set up.

Starting such a crucial qualifier with a defender with just 268 minutes of Eredivisie football was always an unnecessary and confusing risk and it was exposed within five minutes.

A long pass over the top from Simeon Slavchev caught the defence out and although De Ligt read it early and followed the ball, he missed it and saw it drop to Spas Delev before colliding with Jeroen Zoet as the striker capitalised on the calamity with a goal.

Just 15 minutes later, Bulgaria netted another as De Ligt’s tame header to clear a long ball was nodded on to Delev who controlled it, turned and smashed it past Zoet from outside the box.

The home side deserved their lead. Despite the presence of Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum, Robben and Sporting’s free-scoring Bas Dost, Netherlands were completely flat on the ball and offered no real threat. It took Oranje 57 minutes to get a shot on target - a Quincy Promes effort from distance.

As has been typical over the last two years, Netherlands attacked without any real focus or clear game plan and the whole team seemed muddled and unsure as the ball was kept around the midfield against opponents sitting quite deep.

The Dutch pushed forward more as the second half wore on and had a presence, though minimal, in the box for the first time towards the end, but the damaged had been done by a Bulgaria team better organised than Blind’s.

The coach has seemed out of his depth in the role from the very beginning and it is hard to pick out his real strengths. It is a disastrous period for Netherlands and while the belief in youth is to be commended as they look to bring through the next generation of stars, Blind’s decisions and poor planning have left them in a perilous position in their qualifying group and it is tough to see how they will improve.

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Blind could have waited to give De Ligt his debut in Tuesday’s friendly against Italy, or at least used him as a substitute. Instead, he exposed the youngster in a poorly organised and mismatched defence.

As a determined and composed defender, De Ligt can recover from his mistakes. Tall with a strong upper body, his level and physique are of a player older than 17, but the chubby baby-face gives his age away. He is a composed ball-playing centre-back who poses a good threat going forward, and he is lucky to be able to rely on the external help and advice from club legend and three-time European Cup winner Barry Hulshoff.

Becoming a more regular player for Ajax's senior side after shining in the second tier with Jong Ajax throughout the season, he is expected to be a presence in the national team for many years. By rushing him so much, though, Danny Blind might not be able to say the same about himself.