PARIS: Out-of-favour Manchester United winger Memphis Depay came off the bench to score twice and save the Netherlands’ blushes in Luxembourg in World Cup qualifying match on Sunday.
On an evening when Europe’s minnows came close — but ultimately fell short — of springing some major upsets, Depay gave United manager Jose Mourinho a reminder of his worth just as the Dutch were sliding to an embarrassing draw.
The 3-1 victory over Luxembourg keeps the misfiring Dutch in the hunt for a place at Russia 2018, but they will need to play an awful lot better if they are to trump the twin threats of table-toppers France and Sweden in Group A.
Arjen Robben had a chance after a quarter of an hour for the Dutch, but should have done better than firing at Ralph Schon in the Luxembourg goal, as the Dutch tightened the screw.
Davy Klaassen then went closer, teed up by Robben, but Schon came to the rescue again for Luxembourg, bottom in the group.
The home stopper was finally beaten on 36 minutes when Robben moved the ball onto his favourite left foot to slot home for a deserved Dutch lead.
But a minute before the break the minnows grabbed a leveller after Joshua Brenet felled Daniel da Mota in the box and Maxime Chanot punished the visitors from the penalty spot.
Robben, whose brilliant career has been blighted by injury, failed to make it out for the second half. Wesley Sneijder was also hooked at the break.
It was Depay, one of the replacements, who struck soon afterwards to break home hearts.
And the 22-year-old, strongly linked with a move away from Old Trafford to Everton, sealed the match with his second goal in the final minutes.
Also in Group A Bulgaria edged Belarus 1-0 in Sofia.
In Group H Gibraltar made a piece of history and were level for a while in Cyprus before going down agonisingly 3-1.
But they had cause to celebrate a significant consolation with Lee Casciaro’s 51st-minute equaliser — their first ever World Cup qualifier away goal.
In Group B the Faroe Islands were similarly plucky in soggy Lucerne, where Switzerland scored seven minutes from the end through Stephan Lichtsteiner to grind out a 2-0 victory and maintain their 100 percent record.
In the same group Hungary hammered Andorra 4-0 at home.
Switzerland are streaking away at the top of the group with 12 points from 12, but European champions Portugal can close the gap to three points again if they beat Latvia at home later on Sunday.