Cody Gakpo impressive but Netherlands saved against Poland by ex-Man Utd loanee

Cody Gakpo impressive but Netherlands saved against Poland by ex-Man Utd loanee

Liverpool forward Cody Gakpo shone for an hour as the Netherlands kicked off Euro 2024 with victory over Poland, but it was ex-Manchester United loanee Wout Weghorst who ultimately claimed the headlines with a late winner.

A Poland side without record scorer and talisman Robert Lewandowski actually took the lead in Hamburg. Adam Buksa, the player standing in for the skipper and making only his 17th international appearance at the age of 27, was the beneficiary from some questionable Dutch defending.

The Netherlands set themselves up in a zonal marking system to defend Piotr Zielinski's 16th-minute corner. But the players tasked with disrupting the various runs of the Poles didn't do their jobs and Buksa got in between Denzel Drumfries at the near post and Virgil van Dijk in the central zone to comfortably direct his header beyond the helpless Bart Verbruggen in goal.

It took the Dutch, backed by typically vocal support, around half an hour to properly settle into the game and find their rhythm. When it began to flow, a lot came through the impressive Gakpo.

Lining up on the left but often drifting into the centre of the pitch to get closer to Memphis Depay, the Liverpool forward was at the heart of most of the positive Dutch moves throughout the first half.

His equalising goal enjoyed a stroke of fortune when a big deflection completely wrongfooted the diving Wojciech Szczesny, although it was just reward for the ambition Gakpo showed to take the ball on and unleash a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area.

The No.11 was so influential that, on BBC Radio 5 Live, Dion Dublin even remarked at one stage: "Every time Netherlands get the ball, they're looking to get it to Cody Gakpo."

But he and others were guilty of squandering chances too. Gakpo, who had five shots in the first half alone, should have scored at least once more before half-time, firing over the bar from inside the box after left-back Nathan Ake's pass. Xavi Simons notably missed wide early in the second half after being found by Gakpo, while Memphis also repeatedly struggled to hit the target.

As the game wore on and Gakpo's impact diminished, probably due to carrying his team on his back until then, Donyell Malen came on to briefly good effect, taking over some of the creative load. But a combination of continued wayward finishing and increasingly stubborn Polish defending thwarted them. Off the bench, Georginio Wijnaldum, now 33 and coming off the back of a season in Saudi Arabia, looked only a shadow of the player who had left Anfield in 2021.

Yet just as the Dutch started to look blunt and too predictable, Weghorst extended his excellent international scoring record this year. The 31-year-old netted only seven times on loan for Hoffenheim all season, but his clinical 83rd-minute header from seven yards out was a seventh goal in his last 11 Netherlands appearances over the past 12 months. He hardly touched the ball otherwise.

Van Dijk's back-line never truly looked comfortable defending set-pieces. That ultimately didn't matter here but will be something for France and Austria to try and exploit in the coming days.