Netherlands squeak past Ukraine after second half scare

Andriy Shevchenko’s side had come back from 2-0 down to draw level in Amsterdam

Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands celebrates after scoring the winner in their Euro 2020 victory over Ukraine. Photo: Koen van Weel/EPA

Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands celebrates after scoring the winner in their Euro 2020 victory over Ukraine. Photo: Koen van Weel/EPA

 

Netherlands 3 Ukraine 2

Denzel Dumfries’s 85th-minute header ruined Ukraine’s comeback and gave the Netherlands the perfect start to their 10th European Championship challenge, with victory to match Austria’s earlier in the day.

Roman Yaremchuk’s equaliser moments before had appeared the final salvo of a scintillating second half. It seemed also to have averted a sixth consecutive loss at the competition finals, stretching back to their opening win at Euro 2012, for Ukraine, and given Andriy Shechenko’s side a sense they might make it into the knockout stage. But the draw was not to be.

Yet while Frank De Boer’s side are up and running, this disjointed display suggests they remain what they were at kick-off: long-odds outsiders for the tournament.

After the Netherlands’ nine-year absence from the finals the 16,000 inside the Johan Cruyff Arena gave De Boer’s men a rousing greeting that featured high emotion for Ukraine from those in the number of the war-torn nation.

During the buildup De Boer had been quizzed about a switch from the usual Dutch 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2, with the captain, Georginio Wijnaldum, conceding it was unfamiliar to some players. It meant the coach hoped the move would not backfire in a gamble heightened by his handing of only a third cap to the 19-year-old Jurriën Timber, in place of the injured Mattijs De Ligt, as the right of the three centre-backs.

Dumfries heads in the winner. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dumfries heads in the winner. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It was one of the home country’s two advanced forwards, Memphis Depay, who lit the contest first. He swooped on the ball in his half and powered 60 yards towards Georgiy Bushchan’s goal. The run featured a nutmeg of Illia Zabarnyi though Depay’s shot proved a pea-roller, simple for the keeper to collect.

For what was Ukraine’s third Euro finals challenge Shevchenko plumped for a 4-1-4-1 that contained Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko in midfield, West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko along the right, and Gent’s Yaremchuk the No 9.

While Yarmolenko managed to threaten from a corner – the captain flicking a header wide – those in orange shirts were operating at a tempo that pulled Ukraine out of shape, as shots from Dumfries and Wijnaldum illustrated. The Dutch, though, were flaky when defending, especially when Ukraine countered fast as Yarmolenko did, skating at Daley Blind, who just about chugged back to cover. Though the move broke down when the ball went in-field, there was growing evidence De Boer’s five-strong rearguard was not stable.

Yarmolenko was as effervescent as Depay. A next act was to zip inside and cause Patrick van Aanholt to execute a precisely timed tackle or Felix Brych, from a perfect view, would not have waved away the penalty appeals as the No 7 went down.

Now came the standout moment of an entertaining opening 45 minutes: slick work had the Oranje dropping the ball on to Wijnaldum’s toes and when an instant volley was deflected Bushchan had to readjust smartly before pulling off a superb save. Then, came the period’s poorest miss: from point-blank range Dumfries put a free header wide.

Thus far the game fell into the category of those stuttering affairs that often mark teams opening encounters at major tournaments. And now came a two-goal burst from the Netherlands that both featured clumsy errors.

Yaremchuk equalises for Ukraine. Photo: Koen van Weel/EPA
Yaremchuk equalises for Ukraine. Photo: Koen van Weel/EPA

Sadly, too, each were Vitaliy Mykolenko’s, with Dumfries involved in both. First the right wing-back leapt on the ball when the defender slipped in possession, following this with a delivery that sliced across Ukraine’s area tantalisingly in front of Bushchan. The No 1 could only palm this into the path of a galloping Wijnaldum, who sent the Dutch faithful ballistic with a curving finish. Moments later Mykolenko was outmuscled by Dumfries near goal and when the ball popped back to Wout Weghorst the rangy Wolfsburg striker smashed home for a 2-0 lead, VAR having ruled no foul on the left-back.

Yarmolenko, though, read a different script, making the closing minutes invigorating by beating Maarten Stekelenburg with a 20-yard peach after receiving Yaremchuk’s flick. It had the yellow-shirted fans that studded the arena hoping again. A feeling that turned to a sense of triumph when Yaremchuk headed home, only for Dumfries to win the match all over again for the Netherlands. – Guardian

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