"Red Devils blow Oranje off the pitch" screamed the headline of Belgian paper Het Nieuwsblad after the 125th Derby der Lage Landen (Low Countries derby) ended in a spectacular 4-2 win for Marc Wilmots' side on Wednesday.
The hosts trailed 2-1 in Brussels before the introduction of Dries Mertens on 69 minutes spun the game on its head, with the Red Devils scoring three goals in six minutes. Mertens hit the first on 75 minutes – the lively forward profiting from a Nigel de Jong error – and the PSV Eindhoven man then set up Romelu Lukaku to make it 3-2 before skipping past his marker and sliding in Jan Vertonghen for Belgium's fourth on 80 minutes.
"At last, party time again with the Devils," squealed Het Nieuwsblad, with Mertens adding: "The most beautiful moment was the goal that made it 4-2. At that point, you know it is in the bag. Scoring is nice, but realising you are going to beat the Netherlands is also very special."
Mertens, however, recognises that his team have serious matters afoot as they prepare for their first FIFA World Cup Group A qualifier in Wales next month. "We have not won anything yet," he said. "On 7 September we will be there to do the job. We know we have to do it now, and that we have to be on our game from the very start."
Nor was coach Wilmots getting caught up in the euphoria. "We are not anywhere yet – I keep repeating that," he said. "I have still seen too many mistakes. We lost our shape. I don't want to see that any more but I am proud of the reaction after going 2-1 down. I told the players they should enjoy this evening, but we are nowhere yet."
For Louis van Gaal, making his return to the Oranje bench with a side featuring five debutants, De Jong's mistake was the killer blow. "We should have played out the match, but after that mistake it suddenly became much more difficult," said the 61-year-old, the first Netherlands coach since Guus Hiddink in 1995 to kick off his tenure with a defeat. "Belgium may not be so high in the FIFA rankings but they have a good squad, and maybe a more mature team than the one I put out tonight."
Belgium have now won 41 times against their neighbours, yet while the Dutch still hold the upper hand with 55 victories, Mertens can head back to Eindhoven with a substantial smile on his face. "I will return to the Netherlands a happy man," he said. "My team-mates have made fun of me in the past. Now it is my turn to laugh."
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