THE Netherlands strolled into the knockout stages of the European Championships after comfortably seeing off Austria with a 2-0 win in Amsterdam.

A first-half penalty from Memphis Depay put Frank de Boer’s side in the driving seat and Denzel Dumfries added another goal in the second as they swatted aside Austria with minimal effort.

The Dutch had been given a tremendous scare by Ukraine in their opening fixture after letting a two-goal lead slip in the space of five nervy second-half minutes at the same venue, only to be bailed out by Dumfries’ 85th-minute winner.

This result should have gone some way towards silencing the concerns of de Boer’s critics – the jury is very much out on the manager, who enjoyed a fantastic spell at Ajax before utterly disastrous stints at Crystal Palace and Inter Milan – but in truth, Austria offered virtually nothing by way of a test.

Ukraine were a handy side and exposed some of the weaknesses apparent in this Netherlands team – namely, the soft centre that can be played through with alarming regularity – but anyone tuning in to see how the Dutch would handle themselves against a more capable opponent will have been left sorely disappointed. Austria might have won their opening fixture against North Macedonia rather comfortably in the end but here, it was impossible to discern anything resembling a game plan.

It didn’t take long for Franco Foda’s side to fall behind, and the offending party was an unusual one: David Alaba, the Bayern Munich midfielder who is set to join Real Madrid, the captain of the national side. Dumfries – who was excellent once again – drove at the Austrian, who clumsily stamped on the wing-back’s foot. After a quick glance at the pitchside television as VAR was utilised, the ref pointed to the spot and Depay buried it with aplomb.

The home side’s tails were up now as they went about doubling their doubling their advantage. Some fine work from Patrick Van Aanholt down the left eventually saw the ball worked to Georginio Wijnaldum on the edge of the area but the midfielder’s shot was closed down by Andreas Ulmer.

Then, on the cusp of half-time, the Dutch somehow spurned an opportunity that was good enough to make two goals. A lovely cross-field ball over the last man bounced invitingly into the path of centre-forward Wout Weghorst as he broke into the box, and it seemed inevitable that he would lash it first-time into the back of the net. Instead, he elected to square it to Depay, who inexplicably blazed it over from a few yards out with the entire goal at his mercy.

Austria improved a little after the break but still carried no threat going forward. Their uncompromising faith in their perilously high line was admirable in its own way but it will have surprised absolutely no one – apart from Foda, perhaps – when the Netherlands’ second arrived as they exposed this fatal flaw.

A neat dink from Depay at the halfway line sent substitute Donyell Malin haring through on goal unopposed (I told you it was a high line) and with the 22-year-old PSV Eindhoven striker granted the freedom of Amsterdam, he unselfishly squared it to Dumfries to prod the ball home for 2-0.

To their credit, Austria upped the intensity in the closing ten minutes or so as they hurled the kitchen sink at the Dutch rearguard.

A few awkward questions were asked – an Alaba pot-shot that whistled past the woodwork wasn’t far away at all, and substitute Karim Onisiwo had a great chance but headed straight at Maarten Stekelenburg – but the damage had already been done.