SoccerMatch Report

Wout Weghorst comes good yet again as Netherlands take down Poland

Striker comes on for the final 10 minutes and scores winner for Ronald Koeman’s side in Hamburg

Netherlands' forward Wout Weghorst celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the Euro 2024 Group D football match against Poland at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images
Euro 2024 Group D: Poland1 [Buksa 16] The Netherlands 2 [Gakpo 29, Weghorst 83]

Total Football can wait. The Oranje turned to their big man for a second tournament running as Wout Weghorst pulled victory from what was looking like a disastrous draw in Hamburg.

Just like Weghorst forced Argentina and Lionel Messi to extra-time during the 2022 World Cup, he arrived late and pilfered a winner for the Netherlands.

Never give this Poland side an even break. Sans Robert Lewandowski, and perhaps because of the captain’s injury, Polish organisation almost trumped superior Dutch technique and star turns. Almost.

For 83 minutes, Ronald Koeman’s team failed to execute the job at hand, despite Cody Gakpo’s rasping effort cancelling out an early header by Adam Buksa.

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The sight of Weghorst replacing Memphis Depay for the last 10 minutes sent a wave of energy through the Polish ranks. The Dutch were going agricultural! Turns out, Koeman is a master tactician. The outstanding Nathan Aké played a clever pass into the feet of their giant striker, who stroked it past Wojciech Szczęsny.

A sun-kissed afternoon in Hamburg should be remembered for the gathering of jovial Poles and Dutch, each set of supporters crossing opposite German borders in their droves. Instead, the shooting by local police of a man armed with a pickaxe and incendiary device in the city centre two hours before kick-off brought the first security test of these European Championships. A video of the incident was widely posted on X with Hamburg police “currently assuming” he was a “lone perpetrator”.

The Euros is poorer for the absence of injured Barcelona team-mates Lewandowski and Frenkie de Jong. The Polish captain is nursing a thigh strain and expects to return before the knock-out stages while De Jong, Koeman’s creator-in-chief, has been ruled out of the tournament with an ankle issue.

Last season Buksa bagged a goal every other game on loan to Turkish side Antalyaspor, which pales in comparison to Lewandowski’s 26 strikes for Barca and 82 goals from 150 caps. But the 27-year-old striker did an uncanny impression of his skipper with a glancing header in the 16th minute off Nicola Zalewski’s corner, when he leapt between Denzel Dumfries and Virgil van Dijk to give Poland the lead against the run of play.

The Dutch refused to panic; relentlessly pounding Szczęsny’s goal. The former Arsenal, now Juventus goalkeeper was equally busy and brilliant in a hectic first half. Before Gakpo’s equaliser near the half-hour, the Liverpool attacker, Tijjani Reijnders (twice), Van Dijk and Memphis Depay had each gone agonisingly close to beating him.

The Netherlands were lining up to score into their fans but Poland understood the rules of engagement. Refusing to sit back and take an inevitable beating, their young Serie A midfielders Nicola Zalewski and Kacper Urbanski kept their opponents honest.

Poland midfielder Piotr Zielinski fights for the ball with Netherlands forward Xavi Simons during the Euro 2024 Group D match in Hamburg. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

Gakpo eventually scored thanks to a deflection off Bartosz Salamon’s heel. In basketball parlance, the great players always get to their spots. Same goes for Gakpo, who careered off the left to rifle a shot through three lunging Polish bodies, which only served to block Szczęsny’s eye line and spin over his crouched frame.

The goal came from Zalewski’s poor clearance after pressure by Denzel Dumfries saw the ball fall for Aké who laid it off to Gakpo and continued his run, which checked the Polish back five.

Like the Germans in Munich and Spanish in Berlin, the Netherlands would have been out of sight by the break only for Gakpo and Depay missing sitters.

Poland’s new manager Michael Probiertz could only be delighted to escape the first-half at 1-1 and his team duly settled into a low block for the second half, albeit with a desire to catch the Dutch on the counter.

Xavi Simons was next to threaten a second for the Netherlands, only to blaze wide.

In the 58th minute Jakub Kiwior had a chance to regain the lead for Poland after Zalewski’s brilliant run and delivery. Kiwior will think about his clunky first touch and tame shot for years to come. Same goes for Buksa moments later, as he was far too easily nudged off the ball by Aké.

Weghorst’s goal was almost erased by Jakub Piotrowski at the death. The substitute missed the target as the Dutch collectively exhaled. Up next? France in Leipzig next Friday.

POLAND: Szczęsny; Bednarek, Salamon, Kiwior; Zielinski (Piotrowski, 78), Romanczuk (Slisz, 55); Zalewski, Szymanski (Moder, 46), Urbanski (Swiderski, 55), Frankowski; Buksa.

NETHERLANDS: Verbruggen; Dumfries, De Vrij, Van Dijk, Aké (Van de Ven, 87); Schouten, Reijnders, Veerman (Wijnaldum, 62); Simons (Malen, 62), Depay (Weghorst, 81), Gakpo (Frimpong, 81).

Referee: Artur Soares Dias (Portugal).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent