Monday, July 15, 2024

Weghorst rescues Netherlands


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Hamburg, June 16: For all of the concern and conjecture about the Netherlands midfield, it was the absence of a killer instinct in front of goal that had largely eluded them. Cody Gakpo levelled in the first half after Poland took a surprise lead, but failure to make their dominance pay had in effect muted the glorious L-shaped hue of Oranje wrapped around one end of this vast bowl on the edge of town.
At least until the 81st minute, when Wout Weghorst replaced Memphis Depay. Wearing his personalised headband, and having been on the pitch for about 90 seconds, the hulking striker swiped in past Wojciech Szczesny with his first touch. When all else fails, call for Weghorst. Cue the Dutch ceaselessly singing the name of their No 9, contracted to Burnley, during the closing stages.
“And coach: Ronald Koeman!” boomed the stadium announcer at the end of the Netherlands team news hit an hour before kick-off. Of course, Koeman needs little introduction in these parts.
It was at this stadium where the Netherlands recorded one of their sweetest victories, Koeman scoring a penalty in their semi-final victory against West Germany en route to winning the last European Championship in Germany in 1988. He left a more indelible mark afterwards and, having swapped shirts with Olaf Thon, topless he celebrated before the locals by pretending to wipe his backside with Thon’s white jersey. Koeman’s older brother and long-time assistant, Erwin, played on the left wing that day. Dutch supporters burnt German flags on the terraces.
Here Koeman was in a royal blue polo shirt, considerably upstaged in the tailoring stakes by his opposite number, Michal Probierz, who in a beige three-piece suit looked primed to deliver a father-of-the-bride speech.
The Poland manager’s half-time message will surely have been pretty chipper, given they shocked a dominant Dutch side by taking the lead, Adam Buksa darting towards the front post to slide between Denzel Dumfries and Virgil van Dijk and glance a header past the Brighton goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen and into the bottom corner.
Last week Probierz acknowledged his team, who qualified after an unconvincing playoff penalty-shootout victory against Wales in March, have been roundly written off as whipping boys of Group D. Maybe that will prove the case.The Dutch spent the 15 minutes preceding Buksa’s header and much of the rest of a lively game in the ascendancy, though they struggled to penetrate Poland’s box and appeared jittery in defence, despite the presence of their captain, Van Dijk, De Vrij and Nathan Ake, who was preferred at left-back.
The Netherlands registered 14 first-half shots – three of which were on target with Memphis Depay among those guilty of wasteful finishing – and 51 seconds into the restart a Dumfries header from a Gakpo cross caused a panicked Szczesny to paw the ball clear.
It was a similar story nine minutes later when Xavi Simons, picked to play off the right of Depay, sliced wide after the Netherlands hared forward two v two. Gakpo gobbled up ground and then spread play but a desperate Jakub Kiwior block appeared to startle Simons, who was withdrawn soon after the hour, replaced by the Borussia Dortmund forward Donyell Malen. (Agencies)


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