The Netherlands is beginning to look like a monster that no other nation will enjoy trying to stop. Two goals from Georginio Wijnaldum made the captain the Euro 2020 top scorer with three, as his team finished Group C as emphatic winners.
Frank de Boer’s men have returned a perfect nine points with scores of 3-2, 2-0 and now 3-0. The 3-5-2 the head coach switched to before the tournament will no longer be questioned, and common sense suggests that Oranje will once again be better in Sunday’s round of 16 tie in Budapest.
From the start, the atmosphere in the stadium was very good, first because of the form of Holland, and second because this contest was the swan song (and match 122) for the remarkable Goran Pandev. However, the North Macedonia captain had to watch the opening effort fly off the boot of Ryan Gravenberch, a 19-year-old whose inclusion ranked him the third-youngest starter for the Dutch in a major tournament.
The further probing came when Wijnaldum rolled Donyell Malen down the left, but the second of De Boer’s substitutions failed to find Memphis Depay. Then the latter’s pass to Wijnaldum was again misdirected earlier, moments later Depay shot clear through Stole Dimitrievski’s goal.
A Dutch attack pattern against North Macedonia has already been established. Igor Angelovski’s team hoped to provide an impenetrable shield against the relentless Orange, then look for the possibility of a quick raid. They showed how when Ivan Trichkovski broke free and beat Maarten Stekelenburg, but number 7 was offside. A second scare at home came when Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 20-yard effort hit the goalkeeper’s left post.
But now Holland punched his opponent. From his half, Malen passed the ball directly to Depay, who after a few steps handed it back to the overlapping former Arsenal graduate. Then followed a one-two second between the pair as the ball passed from Malen to Depay, who hit the goal with his left foot for his second of the competition.
The Dutch soon came close to doubling the lead but Dimitrievski blocked Malen’s attempt to play on Denzel Dumfries, whose next act was a loitering by his right back who, again, threatened to break through the white shirt defense. North Macedonia, however, intended to keep the Netherlands honest. Arijan Ademi engineered a run that spun him in front of Stekelenburg before Matthijs de Ligt stepped in to clear the ball.
De Boer had lamented that the ball retention in the previous outing against Austria was not “very Dutch”. While possession could have been better this time around, in the end his mark was 56% to 44, it didn’t matter as his team was in command, led by Depay and Gravenberch, who were vibrating with inventiveness.
De Boer had been asked in preparation if he could change to a 4-3-3 and in the second half he made this change. This new setup came after Stefan de Vrij, a central defender, was replaced at halftime by Jurriën Timber, who moved to right-back, while Dumfries was replaced by Steven Berghuis, who advanced further down the wing.
The head coach saw his tinkering pay off when North Macedonia was instantly invaded and nearly crumbled. De Ligt had a header repelled from the goal line by Trichkovksi and then the Dutch scored a second that felt inevitable. Depay had been almost rampant the entire time and here he blew another hole in the opponent’s rear with a pass that the stalking Wijnaldum hit home.
This had the Johan Cruyff Arena in ecstasy, a state of mind that continued when a deft sequence involving Frenkie De Jong and Depay caused the unfortunate Dimitrievski to parry the latter’s blow in the way of Wijnaldum, Paris Saint’s new signing. -Germain who secured a third goal in three outings to draw alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick at the top of the Golden Boot lists.
With 22 minutes to go, Pandev received an encouraging standing ovation. If this wasn’t the way “the King” wanted to end two decades of national service, he has a resume to warm him up in retirement. The Netherlands may also be creating its own lasting memories.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism