Weghorst unlikely hero as the Netherlands see off sprightly Turkiye

Source: X

In an increasingly data-driven world, you can sometimes be fooled by the numbers. At the end of a frenzied 110-plus minutes in Berlin – which has the largest number of people of Turkish origin outside the country – no one who watched an intense slugfest would have said Turkiye were second-best. Cold numbers told you they had only 40 per cent possession, but so dangerous were they with ball at feet that the predominant reaction from Dutch players and fans at the final whistle was relief.

Historically, the Netherlands is always associated with Total Football, a beautiful creation based on passing patterns and clever movement off the ball. But the defining moment of this gripping contest was a scene straight out of a Sunday League game in a park. Wout Weghorst had come on as a substitute for the disappointing Steven Bergwijn. And with just over 65 minutes on the clock, the Netherlands were 0-1down and heading home.

Bart Verbruggen in the Dutch goal could only parry a fierce driven from Kenan Yildiz. With Kaan Ayhan poised to prod the rebound home, the 6’6”-tall Weghorst stuck out a telescopic leg and diverted the ball clear. Minutes later, at the other end, a wide open Weghorst miskicked with the goal almost at his mercy. But Mert Gunok took no chances and pushed the ball behind. From the resulting corner, taken short and funneled back to Memphis Depay, Stefan de Vrij met the cross with a thumping header to draw Netherlands level.

Six minutes later, Denzel Dumfries, his teammate at Internazionale in Milan, flashed a low ball across the six-yard box. Cody Gakpo and Mert Muldur went for it together, and it was the hapless Turkish right-back who got the final touch as Turkiye, who had dominated the middle passage of play, cruelly found themselves behind.

They gave it everything in the last 20 minutes. Zeki Celik, on as a late substitute, arrowed a shot on target only to see Micky van de Ven throw his body in the way, and to rub salt into Turkish wounds, Verbruggen then produced a save that rivalled the one Gunok had made against Austria. In the first minute of injury time, Semih Kilicsoy, another second-half sub, clipped the ball goalward only for Verbruggen to somehow divert it away with his strong right wrist.

With Tayyip Erdogan watching from the stands – UEFA’s decision to ban Merih Demiral for a ‘wolf’ gesture associated with a right-wing extremist organisation had become a political football – it was the Netherlands that started strongly, with Depay shooting over in the first minute. There was plenty of inventiveness from him and Xavi Simons, but too little end product, and with the Turkish fans finding their voice, their team gradually took control.

Real Madrid’s Arda Guler was magnificent – he would strike the post later with a free kick – as Turkiye played with a freedom one doesn’t often see in tournament football. The attacking midfielders and forwards buzzed around and even the usually unflappable Virgil van Dijk looked flustered as Guler ran the show.

It was no surprise when he produced a delightful cross with his ‘wrong’ right foot for Samet Akaydin to thunder a header home in the 35th minute. But the Dutch reorganised after half-time and with Weghorst’s long limbs to the fore, they can now hope for a repeat of the Euro 1988 meeting with England, when Marco van Basten’s hat-trick led them to an emphatic 3-1 win in Dusseldorf.