Virgil van Dijk’s 74th minute close range header proved the difference at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena in what was the final and decisive game in group A4.
Belgium needed a victory by a three goal margin or more to finish top. Instead the Netherlands emerged triumphant, and also stretched their unbeaten run to 14 matches in the process.
Fittingly for a meeting between two of European football’s traditional heavyweights, it proved a hugely entertaining affair high on technical quality and with a number of chances carved out at either end.
De Bruyne – who played the full 90 minutes - was at the heart of much of Belgium’s most potent attacking threat, supplying superb first half assists that saw Michy Batshuayi and Axel Witsel both go close to making the breakthrough.
It proved an open and fast paced encounter with the Netherlands also threatening in the first half through Vincent Janssen and Cody Gakpo.
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After a solid first half display, Ake was replaced at the break by Tyrell Malacia before De Bruyne then saw a close-range effort blocked as Roberto Martinez’s side sought to up the tempo.
But it was Louis van Gaal’s side who made the breakthrough on 74 minutes, Liverpool central defender van Dijk’s rising to guide home Gakpo’s inviting corner.
Steven Bergwijn then almost doubled the hosts’ advantage in injury time as the Netherlands held firm to round off a successful Nations League qualifying campaign and book their place in the last four.