Gakpo offers Liverpool solution as Netherlands answer more Euro 2024 questions than poor England

Lewis Oldham
Netherlands Romania Euro 2024
Cody Gakpo celebrates scoring for the Netherlands.

Major tournament specialist Cody Gakpo gives the Netherlands hope of a successful European Championship as Ronald Koeman’s side outshone England…


Outspoken former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Rafael van der Vaart blasted the Netherlands’ “disgraceful” performance in their 3-2 group stage loss to Group D winners Austria. For once, he was pretty spot on. 

This back-and-forth thriller was brilliant for neutrals, but it sparked mass outrage in the Netherlands as their defensive woes (the alarming display of Virgil van Dijk, in particular) laid the seeds for a speedy exit from Euro 2024 in the knockout stages.

Ralf Rangnick’s Austria added to the feeling that they (and Granit Xhaka’s Switzerland) are this tournament’s dark horses by leaving a bloodied Netherlands reeling after being dominated and penned back in their group stage finale.

The subsequent inquest has been as profound as the one heard in England as Gareth Southgate’s side produces a similar extremity of sh*tness in Germany. But for their sake, it was not all bad as this worrying defeat placed the Netherlands on the ‘right’ side of the draw for the knockout stages.

This gift-wrapped Ronald Koeman’s under-fire team an easier route to the final. But like England, a much-improved performance was required for them to avoid early elimination against a so-called lesser nation.

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Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane just saved The Three Lions against Slovakia after an increasingly-familiar infuriatingly tepid performance. 

As for the Netherlands, their round-of-16 tie against Romania had upset written all over it heading into kick-off.

Romania have been a breath of fresh air at Euro 2024 with their front-foot and fearless approach. This has been embraced by their supporters, who came out em masse to comfortably outnumber their Dutch rivals on Tuesday evening.

A sea of yellow shirts in the stands roared Romania onto a positive start as they capitalised on the edginess of their opponents to create a couple of decent half-chances.

The Netherlands once again found themselves pushed back in their half and their free-spirited opponents were more than willing to oblige during a troubling opening 15 or so minutes.

But the Netherlands rode out the wave and gradually gained a foothold of the game before their saviour – Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo – struck again to break the deadlock in the 19th minute.

One of the Netherlands’ weaknesses is that they lack a world-class striker, with former Man Utd flops Memphis Depay and Wout Weghorst used up front by Koeman.

But thankfully for the Oranje, Gakpo has quickly proven to be a major tournament specialist, with his goal against Romania his sixth in nine World Cup and European Championship matches.

Gakpo’s latest finish places him among the joint-top scorers at Euro 2024 with three goals. It came about after cutting in from the left wing and shooting early to beat Romania goalkeeper Florin Nita – who really should have done better – at his near post.

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‘Goals change games’ is a common saying in football and Gakpo’s opener proved this was correct as the Netherlands – who were worryingly only ahead for around 12 minutes and 30 seconds in the entire group stages – dominated the rest of the opening half having breathed an immense sigh of relief.

Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrijn should have doubled his side’s lead before Tottenham Hotspur’s Radu Dragusin made a brilliant last-ditch challenge to deny a certain goal.

At the end of the half, Romania showed signs of life to warn the Netherlands that they could eventually be punished for missing chances.

A VAR check for offside later denied Gakpo his fourth goal at Euro 2024 as the number of missed chances from the Netherlands mounted up and this reprieve gave Romania a much-needed boost and raised the decibel levels in the stands heading into the final 25 minutes of normal time.

This proved short-lived as the Netherlands remained the most likely team to score the match’s second goal during the final stages and finally got it inside the last ten minutes.

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Gakpo was in the thick of the action as a rare misjudgement from Dragusin allowed the Liverpool man to dribble down the byline and pull the back to Donyell Malan, who made no mistake after being given the simplest of tasks of scoring from close range.

The Netherlands can take more positives from their round-of-16 win than England. Yet they ensured this victory was unnecessarily nervy in the second half as a spirited Romania side suffered a valiant elimination from Euro 2024 having failed to test their opponents enough before Malen netted an impressive solo goal to make it 3-0 in stoppage time.

The Netherlands’ far-from-resolute defence and wastefulness in attack will be a concern as they get deeper into the tournament, with their chances of reaching the final reliant on a flourishing Gakpo.

£37m Liverpool signing Gakpo is yet to sparkle at Anfield, but was not helped by former boss Jurgen Klopp exploiting his versatility to utilise him across the forward line as he struggled to nail down a starting berth in one position.

But Klopp’s successor – Arne Slot – should come out of this tournament having Gakpo in mind as his solution on the left flank with reports linking a misfiring Luis Diaz with a big-money move to Barcelona refusing to go away.