Missing the last two major tournaments had been hard for the Netherlands to swallow but Georginio Wijnaldum says they have taken a massive step towards qualifying for Euro 2020 with Sunday’s win in Belarus.
Wijnaldum’s two goals in their 2-1 win in Minsk kept the Dutch top of Group C, level on points with Germany and three clear of Northern Ireland, who they beat 3-1 in Rotterdam on Thursday.
It means the Dutch need only a draw in their next game in Belfast on Nov. 16 to book their place in the finals.
“It was very painful to miss the last World Cup and European Championship before that,” said Wijnaldum of the Dutch absence in Russia last year and at Euro 2016 in France.
“When we were off on holiday in the past summers, it was going through my head the whole time that we should have been there.
“That’s why this win is so nice. Of course, we are not completely sure of a place in the tournament but we have certainly taken a giant step,” he told reporters.
Wijnaldum scored the first with his head and then struck a powerful long-range shot to give his side a 2-0 half-time lead.
They let their hosts back into the game after the break but should have scored more, with Wijnaldum narrowly missing out on a hattrick.
“In the second half, we thought it might be too easy. That was laziness, for sure,” he said.
“That is why we are critical of our own performance now. If we play like that against the best teams in Europe at the European Championship, it can be fatal.
“But looking at the bigger picture it was a fifth win in six qualifiers and that is obviously good, especially if you see where we have come from.
“And there is a lot still to come from this group of players. That is why we must stick together.”
Wijnaldum was 23 when the Dutch competed at the World Cup in Brazil, and he said it was important for the squad to experience playing on the biggest stage once again.
“To go to a tournament like that is massive for your development as a player. I know how much pleasure it can bring to compete in a major tournament, especially as we grew in that tournament. We need to feel that again.
“But first we must qualify. We all know strange things can happen in football. If we keep concentration in Northern Ireland then all will turn out well.”