Poland 1-2 Netherlands: Weghorst secures late win after Gakpo’s goal

Poland 1-2 Netherlands: Weghorst secures late win after Gakpo’s goal

When the Dutch won the European Championships in this country 36 years ago, they were practitioners of total football; a nation for whom the game could only be beautiful. But these are more modest days and when in need, a target man will do.

Time was running out in a desperate Dutch search for an equaliser in a game they had overwhelmingly dominated when substitute Woug Weghorst stepped with the direct finishing needed, taking a ball from Nathan Ake and driving it into the net to score.

This is a city and a stadium which holds so much for the Dutch, whose semi-final win over West Germany here in 1988 was in many ways more significant and poignant than beating Russia in the final.

Memories of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the war were still fresh and Koeman, who had scored the equalizing penalty before Marco van Basten slid home the winner, stood in front of the Dutch fans at the end and pretended to wipe his backside with the German shirt he’d swapped with Olaf Thon. ‘Revenge’, declared the Dutch paper De Telegraaf the next day.

Different days, of course, though the tens of thousands who had turned the Reepenbahn into a sea of orange on Saturday night demonstrated the yearning for success. That 1988 tournament, remembered for Marco van Basten’s performance in the final, remains the only one they have won. What wouldn’t they give for a van Basten now?

Wout Weghorst scored the decisive goal as the Netherlands won their Euro 2024 opener

Weghorst has now scored from each of his last three shots at major international tournaments

Weghorst has now scored from each of his last three shots at major international tournaments

Their dominance in the first half here suggested that there is good reason to view them as dark horses. Their 13 shots off target was the most by any team in the tournament so far. But they managed only three on target in that time. The spearhead of the team on paper was the head-banded Memphis Depay – a player very busy with his flicks and tricks, rolling the ball under his studs and trying to beat the same player twice – but no threat whatsoever.

Cody Gakpo was the more clinical one. A near-post shot, forcing a sharp Wojciech Szczesny save a few minutes in, was just a taster of the danger he posed down the left where he played his head up, running at defenders, seeing the possibilities. Denzel Dumphries offered width on the other flank, bombing forward down the right.

But as four clear scoring chances flew wide – the best of them falling to Depay from ten yards – the Dutch were clearly desperate for finisher, standing in the six-yard box to bury the ball.

Somehow, in the face of overwhelming dominance, the Poles found themselves ahead. Adam Buksa, filling the boots of Robert Lewandowski, who has been injured and was on the bench, had previously only scored international goals against Albania, San Marino and the Faroe Islands. But, with good movement, he got himself in between Dumfries and Virgil van Dijk, to angle his header in and score.

Weghorst started the game on the bench before coming on as a substitute in the 81st minute

Weghorst started the game on the bench before coming on as a substitute in the 81st minute

Poland striker Adam Buksa opened the scoring in the 16th minute before sliding on his knees

 Poland striker Adam Buksa opened the scoring in the 16th minute before sliding on his knees

Buksa's goal came via a header from Poland's first corner kick of the match in Hamburg

Buksa’s goal came via a header from Poland’s first corner kick of the match in Hamburg

The Dutch defence has looked as strong as any, coming into this tournament. Its balance and structure out of possession frequently allowed them to win the ball back in the Polish half. They did so decisively, through Nathan Ake seizing on a weak clearance from Nicola Zalewski, to score a deflected equaliser just before half-time.

It left an hour of football to secure the winner. Did they have the ingenuity and guile to do so? Dutch football feels so full of uncertainties, even though Koeman coaches the team he once played in. For the first time since 2008, there is not a single Ajax player in the Dutch squad. And that goal really did prove elusive. From the 29th minute to the time the winner went in, there was not a single shot on target from the Netherlands.

Ake played Gakpo in, though he flicked over with his right outstep. The Liverpool player drove a breakaway early in the second half and laid on Xavi Simons, who fired wide. Borussia Dortmund’s Donyell Malen, on for Simons, did make an impact but nothing more.

It took that target man to deliver what the Netherlands had been screaming out for, seven minutes from time. Weghorst had been on the pitch for two minutes when Ake was allowed far too much room to advance and the advancing striker swept the ball into the net.

The win is so badly needed for the Dutch, with the French also in this group. They will need more of the Weghorst effect if they are to prosper here.

Gakpo, who celebrated with manager Ronald Koeman, has now scored 10 international goals

Gakpo, who celebrated with manager Ronald Koeman, has now scored 10 international goals

Poland's defeated players applauded their supporters after the final whistle in Hamburg

Poland’s defeated players applauded their supporters after the final whistle in Hamburg

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