The return of the Netherlands to the highest European podium will long be remembered as a spectacular match in which the Netherlands made it unnecessarily difficult for itself. A 2-0 lead was given away, but just before time Denzel Dumfries brought the Arena into ecstasy again: 3-2. The Netherlands thus won its first match at the European Championship, while no one had yet dared to hope for it, after the scenes in the final phase.
The party had taken place in the hours before. Not only the Dutch national team, but also the fans were present again. Dressed in orange plush hats, orange capes, sun visors, clog hats, Indian headdresses, sunglasses and dozens of other accessories, 16,000 supporters entered the stands in the hope of a whirlwind start to the European Championship. The Orange Legion, once welcomed by Romanian supporters with the banner: „You are not football supporters. You are clowns.”
After two missed final tournaments in a row and a major health crisis, it was no surprise that the opening match of the Orange squad was accompanied by scenes that you could not have imagined until a month ago.
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Yet it was also a strange day, which started for many football fans with a check on their phone. How would it be with Christian Eriksen? The 29-year-old Dane was resuscitated in front of the world on Saturday evening during the match between Denmark and Finland. A dramatic scene that did not leave the Dutch internationals untouched.
The images evoked strong memories in Zeist, national coach Frank de Boer said before the game. To the fate of Ajax player Abdelhak Nouri. To the heart problems of international Daley Blind, who has been playing with a box in his chest ever since. The scheduled meeting was postponed. Football was suddenly something futile.
Not more than 24 hours later. Power play in the opening phase. Memphis Depay marching towards goal after a minute and hitting Georgiy Bushchan’s fists. Then the (missed) opportunity for Denzel Dumfries and the strike by captain Georginio Wijnaldum just over the bar.
Nevertheless, the Arena sometimes held its breath when the handy Ukrainian wingers pinged towards the goal. Sometimes they broke through, but then there was always Maarten Stekelenburg, the 1.98 meter tall veteran (38) who radiates calm between the posts and apparently easily parried the balls.
Still, it was mainly another ‘giant’ that attracted attention on the pitch. An atypical striker by Dutch standards: Wout Weghorst. He hangs and drags, makes progress, doesn’t always master his frantic facial features and also defended like mad against Ukraine, all the while asking for the ball and seeing his hard work rewarded in the second half when he scored the second goal. took his account, the 2-0, after the first goal by Georginio Wijnaldum.
In Germany they could not understand that the top scorer of VfL Wolfsburg was long a doubt for the European Championship selection. If only De Tukker had been born a little further east – the Germans would have known, with that instinct for goals.
They no longer have to tell the Dutch national team coach. Weghorst is one of the important assets in Frank de Boer’s mission to make the Orange squad shine again at this European Championship. Which is not going to be easy despite this first match. At times Orange looked vulnerable, especially defensively. No Virgil van Dijk, and now also no Matthijs de Ligt. But the young Jurriën Timber stood his ground on Sunday as a replacement for De Ligt. As if he is not only 19 but 29 years old.
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Hoping for the successes of yesteryear, those few tournaments where the Netherlands was regarded as the world’s top, the public had to wait almost an hour before the better field play was actually converted into goals. The first came from Wijnaldum’s left foot (nicely placed), the second from Weghorst, a dry shot that other strikers would say is a fine goal; because as a striker you have to be in the right place. And there he stood, the dragging, always waving Weghorst.
Things got tense after his goal. Because suddenly Ukraine scored. Twice. First Andriy Yarmolenko scored beautifully, then Roman Yaremchuk headed the ball in.
Still, it turned out okay. Denzel Dumfries: because of his header, the Netherlands escaped unscathed.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 14, 2021