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Romania 0 Netherlands 3: Stylish Dutch through to quarter-finals as Gakpo chases Golden Boot – The Briefing


Romania 0 Netherlands 3: Stylish Dutch through to quarter-finals as Gakpo chases Golden Boot – The Briefing

The Netherlands are through to the quarter-finals at this summer’s European Championship after beating Romania 3-0 in Munich.

Romania started the game on the front foot but Ronald Koeman’s side grew into the game and deservedly took the lead after 20 minutes via Cody Gakpo’s third goal of Euro 2024. The Dutch dominated the remainder of the half — particularly on the right flank — but Edward Iordanescu’s side, as they have throughout the tournament, retained a threat on the break.

Gakpo then assisted a second goal for the Netherlands in the closing stages, working the ball expertly along the goalline and slipping it across for Donyell Malen, before Malen added a third (past a shoe) in injury time to seal an impressive win.

Jacob Whitehead, James McNicholas, Liam Tharme and Seb Stafford-Bloor analyse the key talking points from the game.


Was that… a pair of shoes on the pitch?

It was one of the more curious sights of this European Championship.

As Donyell Malen slalomed towards the penalty area, defenders furiously backpedalling ahead of him, Romania’s goalkeeper Florin Nita should have been bracing himself to try and keep the scoreline at 2-0.

Screenshot 2024 07 02 at 18.55.07

Instead, Nita was more concerned with kicking away a shoe which was lying just to his right. He managed it — but only just before Malen let fly with his shot, which duly nestled in the bottom of the net.

Screenshot 2024 07 02 at 18.55.24

It was hardly the game’s defining moment, but it was a strange one. Where had the trainer — and its partner, lying a few yards further up the field — come from? A child fan had invaded the pitch a few moments earlier but the shoes lying on the turf were too big to belong to him. Presumably they had been thrown from the crowd, which only heightens the mystery.

Why did they do it? Answers are needed.

Andrew Fifield

Gakpo’s goal was a lovely glimpse of Total Football

Ronald Koeman has been questioned from all angles this tournament. Too conservative. Guilty of favouritism. Ducking press conferences. One of the weightiest criticisms has been one of style — turgid, uninspired, and unenergetic.

In a country with the legacy of Johan Cruyff, that is quite the criticism to level at the national team. After the Austria defeat, Koeman was asked whether he thought Cruyff’s eyes would have hurt watching this iteration of the Oranje.

“It’s a difficult question,” Koeman said, with uncharacteristic reserve. “I know he liked attacking football very much, but I was a part of his team a long time and we had worse matches than we did against Austria. Of course, we are a proud nation; we like to win, we like to play nice football, but it’s not always happened.”

romania vs netherlands

Fortunately for Koeman, it happened through Gakpo’s goal in the 20th minute — the Netherlands’ finest piece of attacking play so far.

Dutch use of Cruyff’s principles


Compact the pitch




Deep before wide


Create an extra man


Third man runs


Create one-vs-ones


Positional interplay


Forward defending


One of Cruyff’s key footballing principles was positional rotation, but it is a principle that the Netherlands had not yet exhibited at this tournament.

Yet with Denzel Dumfries back after a minor injury and pushing up high, he effectively allowed the right-winger to float inside. On this occasion that was Steven Bergwijn (more on him later), who then effectively became a dual No 10 with Xavi Simons.

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(James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Dumfries had been exploiting Romania’s lack of width all game — and here they overcompensated, with left-back Vasile Mogos moving tight on to him and leaving the centre-backs with far too much space to cover. They could not mark both Simons and Bergwijn — plus the space in behind — and a perfectly weighted pass from Simons found Cody Gakpo in acres of space. 1-0 to Netherlands with a near-post finish — and some of Koeman’s Cruyffian credibility restored.

Jacob Whitehead

Are the Dutch growing into this tournament at the ideal time?

Watching the Oranje in full flow is one of the most captivating sights in international football. There were signs in this game that Koeman’s team might be finding their groove.

The Netherlands dominated possession against Romania, and as they grew in confidence produced a number of eye-catching flicks and tricks. Until now, Spain have been the competition’s most aesthetically pleasing team. Given the individual talent and flair at Koeman’s disposal, the Netherlands may be the only team capable of rivalling them for sheer entertainment.

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(Sebastian Widmann – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

If there is something missing from this squad, it’s arguably a clinical centre-forward. For a nation with a rich history of brilliant goalscorers, that is unusual. Gakpo may be the joint-top scorer in the competition, but if he was complemented by a ruthless central attacker, the Netherlands would surely have had this game sewn up considerably earlier.

James McNicholas

Romania’s defending was heroic — but it needed to be 

There are two ways of judging the Romanian defensive performance. In isolated moments, it was dramatic and impressive. Radu Dragusin made an outstanding clearance from underneath his own crossbar in the first half. Andrei Ratiu made another outstanding tackle to deny a certain Xavi Simons goal in the second. Two highlights among many other blocks and tackles.

So excellent — but also damning in its way, because it was heroic out of necessity, describing how little protection that back four was afforded and how exposed it often was to the Netherlands’ quick, penetrative ball movement.

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(Chris Ricco – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Romania did not press high by design. But they also did not exert any real pressure in midfield, either. Tijjani Reijnders especially was able to receive the ball in yards of space, turn, carry, and find telling gaps with his passing.

That it remained 1-0 for so long was credit to some of those Romania defenders. That additional Dutch goals seemed inevitable for so long suggested a game plan that did not really work.

Seb Stafford-Bloor

Bergwijn unlocks the Dutch attack… for 45 minutes

Under increasing pressure in his homeland, Ronald Koeman made three changes to his team for the last-16 tie with Romania.

One of his most effective changes was giving Steven Bergwijn his first start of the tournament. Although Gakpo scored the opener cutting in from the left, much of the Netherlands’ most impressive play came down the right — where Bergwijn was deployed.

steven bergwijn romania 0

With Denzel Dumfries making overlapping runs outside him, Bergwijn was able to take up more central positions. He has featured as a centre-forward and second striker for Ajax this season, and his ability to pop up in half-spaces helped unlock what has until now been a somewhat turgid Dutch attack.

Bergwijn has good close control and awareness, so is effective in small spaces. That allowed him to prove an effective foil for both Dumfries and Memphis Depay.

Netherlands attacking touches Romania

Unfortunately for Koeman, Bergwijn’s impressive performance was cut short. After picking up an injury he was replaced by Donyell Malen at half-time. Koeman’s decision to bring on Malen over Jeremie Frimpong indicated that he wanted to continue playing with a right-sided attacker who plays in central areas more than driving to the touchline.

James McNicholas

The tournament of early goals continues

Cody Gakpo put the Netherlands ahead after 20 minutes. By tournament standards, that’s a fairly early goal, especially in the round of 16 where knockout games make things cagey. Except by Euro 2024 standards, it’s a late goal. This tournament has been all about games broken open early: the Netherlands conceded after six minutes on matchday three against Austria and 16 minutes on matchday one against Poland. This is the first time at the tournament they have scored first.

Even with eight games to play, Euro 2024 has already seen more goals in the first 30 minutes of games (33) than Euro 2020 (29). It’s throwing up some weird game states, with inferior teams taking surprise leads against better sides and able to sit back for longer, or possession-heavy teams scoring earlier than they might expect and having to decide whether to try and play keep-ball or sit back more.

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(Sebastian Widmann – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

The Netherlands opted to push forward more in the first half looking for a second goal, but were faced with a wave of Romania attacks and set pieces at the end of the first half.

As Belgium head coach Domenico Tedesco and Slovakia head coach Francesco Calzona have noted, the level of ‘lesser’ European nations has risen this tournament, particularly with regards to their out-of-possession game plan, with Romania proving this — strong defenders from a 4-4-2 mid/low-block. It means that comebacks are always possible in games, with the win rate for teams scoring first only 55 per cent at this tournament, way down on the 71.4 per cent at Euro 2020.

If goals change games, then early goals really change games.

Liam Tharme

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(Top photo: Getty Images)

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