ROTTERDAM • The Netherlands have put behind them the poor form that saw them miss out on the last two major tournaments but even coach Ronald Koeman was surprised by Friday's Nations League victory over world champions France.
"We have shown we have broken the slump but I did not expect that we would be so much better through 90 minutes," said a delighted Koeman after a 2-0 win in Rotterdam inflicted a first defeat on the French since they won the World Cup in Russia.
The result means the Netherlands can win the group if they draw against Germany tomorrow, usurping the last two World Cup winners to advance to next June's Nations League Finals.
"I also did not expect that this team would be as far ahead in their reading of a match. We've shown on such a night that we've made enormous steps. From the beginning to the end, we played really well," Koeman added.
Georginio Wijnaldum scored just before half-time and Memphis Depay converted a late penalty as the Dutch dominated against the world champions, looking much changed from the side that missed out on the 2016 European Championship and the World Cup this year.
The Netherlands also beat Germany 3-0 last month in the Nations League to signal their potential but Koeman, appointed in February, had tried to temper the euphoria then.
But he was fulsome in his praise after the latest victory, while making a big claim that France were not up to their usual standards.
We have shown we have broken the slump but I did not expect that we would be so much better through 90 minutes... The final score could have been 3-0 or 4-0.
RONALD KOEMAN , Netherlands coach, was taken aback by his players' performances against the world champions.
"To be better than we were against France will be very difficult. It has given the team a lot of self-confidence," he said.
"France did not come to play and try and make a decent game of it. We had many chances but their 'keeper (Hugo Lloris) was tremendous, otherwise the final score could have been 3-0 or 4-0."
The closest Didier Deschamps' men came to scoring was a weak 10th-minute header from Antoine Griezmann, who was otherwise anonymous alongside the equally invisible Kylian Mbappe - arguably one of the brightest stars of the World Cup.
"There was one team out there with a lot of desire and we didn't have enough," said France coach Deschamps.
"There was a clear gulf between the sides and they deserved the win... We weren't at the races and didn't show enough."
The Netherlands' win also meant that Germany will slip into League B of the Nations League regardless of the result of their clash with the Dutch tomorrow.
Head coach Joachim Low urged his side to move past their "painful" relegation from the top tier of the inaugural Nations League.
"For us, this result is obviously painful, but we must accept it," he said. "Our eyes remain fixed on Euro 2020, for which we will qualify and where we want to send a strong team again.
"We will continue to make room for our young players and to gradually integrate them into the national team."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE