By Steve Keating
DOHA - If the Netherlands do not improve possession they have little chance of winning the World Cup, coach Louis van Gaal said on Friday after his men let a chance to reach the last 16 slip through their fingers with a 1-1 draw with Ecuador.
After Cody Gakpo's sixth-minute rocket gave the Netherlands a 1-0, the Dutch appeared on their way to advancing from Group A into the knockout stages.
But the ball retention issues that bedevilled the Dutch in a somewhat unconvincing 2-0 win over Senegal in their opener surfaced again at the Khalifa International Stadium, resulting in a second half equaliser from Ecuadorean "Superman" Enner Valencia.
Ecuador had a subdued first half as Van Gaal's side looked comfortable but unhurried.
The South Americans, roared on by a large yellow-clad contingent, stepped up a gear in the second and could have won it when Gonzalo Plata's strike hit the crossbar.
"We were poor in terms of ball possession and if you're not good at ball possession you won't reach the other half," lamented Van Gaal. "We would lose the ball too quickly so we could not pass to our own players.
"In this match that was just not good.
"Plus we lost every challenge, every duel, every second ball.
"Ecuador could have won but they did not have many chances either."
Despite the possession problems, Van Gaal believes he has a real chance of handing his nation the prize that has always eluded them - including three traumatic defeats in the 1974, 1978 and 2010 finals.
But his team will have to show far more intensity than they have done so far.
"I must say I was satisfied that we played 1-1 but I was not satisfied with the game," said the 71-year-old coach. "We simply need to improve our game in terms of ball possession and we are working on that and we will continue to work on that.
"Whether we will make it (further) in this tournament I can't say, I can't guarantee that but I think so."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Doha. Editing Christian Radnedge)