GELSENKIRCHEN (Germany) • Virgil van Dijk had just scored a 91st-minute equaliser against Germany on Monday to fire the Netherlands into the Nations League Finals.
But instead of lapping up the plaudits, he took the time to embrace referee Ovidiu Hategan at full time. The Romanian looked distraught after his mother died hours before.
"That man broke down, stood with tears in his eyes because he had just lost his mother," the defender explained after the 2-2 draw. "I wished him strength and said he refereed well. It's a small thing, but maybe it helps him."
France might have had reason to shed a tear or two as well. The point in Gelsenkirchen was enough for the Dutch to reach the last four at the world champions' expense after two late goals in the final six minutes set up a dramatic finish.
Nations League and Euro qualifiers: The link
Portugal (hosts), England, Switzerland and the Netherlands are the final four in the Uefa Nations League Finals. The draw is on Dec 3.
• June 5, 2019: Semi-final 1
• June 6: Semi-final 2
• June 9: Third-place play-off
• June 9: Final
For Euro 2020 qualifying, the four will be put in five-team groups rather than six, freeing them from two match days to play in the Nations League Finals. The Euro draw for the 55 teams is on Dec 2.
• March to November 2019: Euro qualifiers group stage The Nations League winners will not gain automatic Euro qualification, where 10 group winners and 10 runners-up will make up 20 of the 24 finalists.
• March 2020: Euro play-offs The remaining four spots will go to the winners of a mini tournament between the top four in each Nations League group (A to D) who have not already qualified. The top four in League A will contest for a Euro berth. Ditto for Leagues B to D.
Germany had led 2-0 after only 20 minutes through goals from Timo Werner and Leroy Sane but were ultimately punished for not seeing the game out.
Van Dijk hailed the Netherlands' belief after Quincy Promes started the fightback with a goal in the 85th minute. He said it was "a fantastic feeling" to win League A's Group 1 ahead of France (head-to-head record) and Germany.
"We should all be proud of ourselves. I know I am," he said after the Dutch joined England, Switzerland and Portugal in the Nations League's last four.
Van Dijk added that after missing out on qualifying for the Finals of both Euro 2016 and this year's World Cup, the priority is to get to the Euro 2020 Finals.
"If we can win the Nations League, fantastic, but we all want to make sure we're at the European Championship," he said.
Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman also praised his team for turning their late chances into goals.
"The fight and belief we showed was enough for the point," he said.
"We didn't play great football but it was enough. No one expected Holland to win the group."
In the last 12 months, Germany have suffered six defeats, their most in a calendar year, exited the World Cup bottom of their group and have now been relegated to League B of the Nations League.
"It's been a very disappointing year after the World Cup didn't go the way we wanted it to," coach Joachim Low said. "But I have the feeling we are on a good path with these young players and will be successful again."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS