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Netherlands Sweats Out Group Finale to Return to World Cup

Four years after the national embarrassment of missing the World Cup, the Netherlands booked a ticket to return to the world's biggest stage.

The Oranje didn't make it easy for themselves though, waiting until the final stages of the final game of qualifying to win their group and earn a spot in Qatar next fall. Tottenham winger Steven Bergwijn scored the opening goal in the 84th minute while Memphis Depay ensured victory in the 91st.

With his 17th goal in the last 15 international games, Depay finishes tied for the most goals in qualifying with England's Harry Kane with 12. The Dutch side, which re-appointed Louis van Gaal as manager in August, nearly qualified on Saturday before blowing a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes to Montenegro.  

The Netherlands hold the record for the most World Cup final appearances without ever winning the tournament after losing the final in 1974, 1978 and 2010.

The Oranje win eliminates Norway, who played without injured star Erling Haaland and finished third behind Turkey in the group. The Borussia Dortmund phenom will have to wait until the World Cup field expands to 48 teams in 2026—when he will be about to turn 26—for his first World Cup appearance.

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The Netherlands fill out the field of European group winners who qualified for the World Cup along with Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, England, Croatia and Germany.

Meanwhile, the 10 group runners up and the two highest-ranked remaining Nations League group winners will compete in a new playoff format for the final three UEFA spots in Qatar. On Nov. 26, the 12 nations will be drawn into three separate, four-team playoff brackets, where the sides will play a single-elimination semifinal and final.

The six top runners up—Portugal, Scotland, Italy, Russia, Sweden and Wales—will all be seeded, meaning they will host their single-elimination playoff semifinal whereas another draw will determine the final locations.

The remaining four runners up—Turkey, Poland, North Macedonia and Ukraine—and the two Nations League group winners, Austria and the Czech Republic, will be the unseeded away teams for the semifinals.

The playoff semifinals will take place March 24 and 25 while the one-leg final will fall on March 28 and 29.

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