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Netherlands edge Ukraine in frantic Group C opener at Euro 2020

·4 min read
Netherlands players celebrate with match-winner Denzel Dumfries (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Netherlands players celebrate with match-winner Denzel Dumfries (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

There has been little conviction in Frank de Boer, and a mountain of question marks against the defensive capabilities of his Netherlands team.

The evidence for why that has been the case was presented in their Group C opener against Ukraine that was exceptionally entertaining, but witnessed them swing from total control to collapse to ‘Thank God for Denzel Dumfries’.

A 3-2 victory kickstarted Netherlands’ European Championships crusade, but there was a greater sense of turbulence than triumph.

How did a game that seemed comfortably sealed on 58 minutes require crazy saving late on?

Ukraine had looked like imposters at the Johan Cruijff Arena, so far removed from the side that finished top of their Euros qualifying group – above Portugal – and conceded just four times.

Representing their nation at a time of war, with a map emblazoned on their jerseys as a reminder that they carry the hopes of many beyond recognised borders, there didn’t seem to be much fight in Andriy Shevchenko’s men… until there was.

In four second-half minutes, they not only threatened to take the match away from Netherlands but spark a tearing through De Boer’s 3-5-2 formation and imbalanced approach.

But for much of the encounter, Ukraine were mere bystanders. By the break, the hosts had more shots inside the box than their opponents had mustered in total.

Shevchenko’s charges repelled the ball, getting it and ceding it rapidly without anyone to dictate tempo or even hold it up.

So Netherlands came and came, with Memphis Depay their greatest threat and Dumfries causing all sorts of issues down the right.

The Everton-linked speedster did squander the best opening of the first 45 minutes, heading wide when free at the far post.

When the Dutch did locate greater precision, Georgi Bushchan thwarted them in between the sticks.

Fine interplay saw Jurrien Timber and Depay combine to create a chance for Wout Weghorst. He attempted to round Ukraine’s goalkeeper, but the 27-year-old slid in and claimed the ball strongly.

He’d make another top-shelf intervention when Wijnaldum’s robust volley took a deflection. Bushchan had set his body for the trajectory of the initial shot but adjusted superbly to push it away with his left hand.

Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk did provide some nuisance to an unconvincing Netherlands’ backline, but without the requisite quality and composure to make it count.

When the breakthrough did eventually arrive on 52 minutes, there was no shock that the celebrations were from the team in orange.

Netherlands players celebrate with captain and goalscorer Georginio Wijnaldum (centre) (Getty Images)
Netherlands players celebrate with captain and goalscorer Georginio Wijnaldum (centre) (Getty Images)

Ukraine were so passive, second to everything, and so laboured that they had rolled out the welcome mat for the Dutch to translate their dominance to the scoreboard.

Dumfries had directed in a low cross from the right and Bushchan, who’d been magnificent, dived out to intervene but could only send the ball into Wijnaldum’s path.

The midfielder, cool as you like, finished superbly into the roof of the net from 15 yards.

Ukraine had invited that and what happened six minutes later. Dumfries was too strong for Vitalii Mykolenko in motoring into the box to receive a lovely Frenkie de Jong pass.

Bushchan got a block in, but the ball rebounded to Weghorst, who smashed it in from close range.

There was a VAR check to ascertain whether Mykolenko was fouled or if Dumfries was offside and interfering with the keeper. Neither of those were the case and Netherlands were deservedly 2-0 up.

And then, out of nowhere, Ukraine were alive. Yarmolenko played a one-two with Yeremchuk on the right and then applied his signature move of cutting inside before curling a wondrous shot into the top corner from 20 yards.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Before Netherlands could shake off being stunned, Ruslan Malinovskiy’s free-kick was headed in by Yaremchuk to even matters.

Ukraine kept the pressure on, but in a final twist, Nathan Ake’s cross from the left was met with a downward header from Dumfries on 85 minutes.

That was enough to win it, but there will be no great credence in Netherlands. They are properly fun to watch, but that doesn’t necessarily convert to a team you can bank on.

Read More

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