- Dutch defender Ki-Jana Hoever plays for his country’s U-17 side and Liverpool
- Used to working miracles with the Reds, he has set out to perform another with the Oranje
- Despite a slow start, his team still have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages
When a team wins 4-0, the plaudits tend to be reserved for the forwards. And so it was on 2 November in Goiania, as Oranje striker Sotjen Hansen grabbed the headlines with two goals and an assist against USA. However, it would be unfair to overlook the contribution made in the same match by the Dutch defence, a backline that had been especially reconfigured for the occasion around one man: Ki-Jana Hoever.
“I started at right-back in the first two matches. This evening was my first match at centre-back. So it was a bit of a change from before, but I don’t think it went too badly,” explained the Dutch U-17 No2 to FIFA.com. “We’d spoken before the match about how important it was not to concede. Wins are often built around a big defensive effort. So yes, the forwards did their job today, but so did the defenders!”
It was, in fact, the first clean sheet kept by the reigning champions of Europe in the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019™. The Oranje had conceded three goals in both of their previous games. “I’m struggling to make sense of those defeats. Against Japan, we started well and then let the match slip away from us. We have to give credit to the opposition, too, who played very well,” he admitted. “Then inexplicably, it happened to us again against Senegal, despite going ahead. Today, we’ve put things right!”
As well as his new-look defence, Peter van der Veen chose to start the match against USA with no fewer than eight players who play their club football for Ajax. A coincidence?
“No, it was obviously a deliberate decision by the coach. He wanted to go with players who are simply more used to playing with one another. And everyone knows how good Ajax’s academy is,” added Hoever, who himself played for the Amsterdam side before leaving in 2018 to join Liverpool.
“Liverpool? I’m really happy there,” he said. “Obviously I’ve learnt so much at the club from a tactical and technical point of view, but also on the mental side of things,” he continued, speaking English with an unmistakable Merseyside twang. “Above all, I’ve learnt never to give up. Which is the very principle that my team-mates and I are applying to our situation right now!”
From a “Red” miracle to an “Oranje” miracle?
Despite having won their final group fixture by four goals to nil, the Oranje’s World Cup destiny is out of their hands. They will have to wait until the last moment to find out whether they are through to the round of 16. In any case, the USA match saw the team go some way to rectifying their goal difference, which may be crucial when it comes to identifying the four best teams among those ranked third in their groups.
However, although the tournament got off to the worst possible start for the Dutch, a miraculous turnaround is by no means beyond the realms of possibility. And miracles are one thing that Hoever knows all about from his time in England. “It’s Liverpool’s speciality! My club has performed a few over the last few months. In fact, they managed another one against Aston Villa (Editor’s note: trailing Villa in a Premier League match, the Reds mounted a late comeback and scored the winning goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time). Like any Red, I believe in miracles. And I believe in my team.”