AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands are on the brink of elimination from the 2018 World Cup following Thursday’s 4-0 drubbing by France but skipper Arjen Robben is optimistic they can still make it to Russia next year.
France now top Group A with 16 points, while the Dutch are six points behind in fourth place, two points behind third-placed Bulgaria.
A 3-2 defeat for second placed Sweden in Bulgaria, however, means if the Dutch win their last three qualifiers, they could still finish second and advance to the play-off.
The winners of the nine groups qualify directly for Russia while the best eight of the second-placed teams take part in two-leg playoffs for four more places.
“Unbelievable but true. We still have our fate in our own hands and we have to grab it with whatever we have,” Robben said after the mauling at Paris’ Stade de France.
Whether the Dutch deserve to go to Russia was the debate in the country’s newspapers on Friday.
“Oranje failed miserably in their Paris mission but crazily enough the World Cup is still in reach,” wrote the Algemeen Dagblad in its sports section headline. “But what business will this team have being there,” the daily asked.
The Dutch played the last 30 minutes with 10 men after midfielder Kevin Strootman was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession but Robben did not offer any excuse.
“We deserved to lose against a team that was much better than us,” Robben added. “But we are disappointed with the manner in which we lost.”
Coach Dick Advocaat also admitted it was total capitulation by his team.
“We were literally absent in this game. At all levels we were the inferior team. That was clear,” said Advocaat, who was appointed in mid-year for a third spell in charge of the team.
They next host Bulgaria in Amsterdam on Sunday and are then away at bottom placed Belarus on Oct. 7 and finish at home to Sweden on Oct. 10.
“We can do it. We have to keep believing and stay positive,” added veteran Robin van Persie, whose second half substitute appearance marked his return to the team after an absence of almost two years.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty