Donyell Malen double sinks Romania to put Netherlands in last eight – Football News

Donyell Malen double sinks Romania to put Netherlands in last eight

Just in case anyone needed ­reminding, the Dutch know how to play ­football. Clicking back into gear after a ­stumble against Austria, the ­Netherlands brushed aside the challenge of ­Romania – literally in the case of Cody Gakpo bursting beyond Radu Dragusin to set up the decisive second goal – and head into the quarter-finals in form.

This was a vindication for coach Ronald Koeman, whose selection was spot on and his substitutions even more so. For their opponents, this still counts as a good ­tournament, and their fans made one heck of a noise.

However, the gulf in class between Romania and the Oranje in blue was clear and only grew larger as the game went on. Donyell Malen scored a brace in the last 10 ­minutes after coming on at half-time, ­consolidating a first-half lead delivered clinically by Gakpo.

The Romanians had the first 20 minutes, driven on by the support prized so much by coach Edward Iordanescu. Unfurling a banner that read “give everything for the final” (this may be a loose ­translation) they were not in the mind to go home. The players were of the same persuasion it seemed and began the game at a furious pace. Led by Ianis Hagi who sustained an early cut to the head that left him wearing a bandage and a hairnet, the Ena Sharples of the Carpathians, they crafted the best of the early chances. But much like a famous resident of Transylvania, the apparently dormant Dutch woke up when the Romanians least desired it.

The opening goal came in the 20th and it was a delicious move, begun by the unassuming Jerdy Schouten. His little pass ran only 10 yards, but it bisected the Romanian midfield entirely and found Xavi Simons in a pocket of space. Simons spun and released Gakpo out wide. The Liverpool forward took Andrei Ratiu towards the touchline then cut back away, took a touch across the corner of the box and drilled a low shot inside Florin Nita’s near post. Could the keeper have saved it? Perhaps, but at 125kph, at least it was over quickly.

Cody Gakpo shows his delight after giving the Netherlands the lead. Photograph: Matthias Schräder/AP

Koeman spoke afterwards of his satisfaction with his team’s “ball ­position”. It sounded like ball possession at first but he meant what he said; the spaces and places in which his team picked up the ball and made use of it. His midfield played like a unit here after being a rabble against the Austrians and Koeman had especial praise for Simons, returning to the starting XI and adapting to a new role for this team between the lines. His link-up with the confident, strong and well-drilled Gakpo was key.

It was also the case, however, that the Romanians had a ­pulsating bruise, the left-back position where ­Nicosur Bancu was ­unavailable through ­suspension. The Dutch chose to punch that bruise again and again. Iordanescu, with his team under ­pressure, chose to reshape his defence before half-time, but with ­little effect. Simons should have scored after Denzel Dumfries robbed the substitute Bogdan ­Racovitan just before the break, but missed the moment thanks to an unnecessary touch.

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Koeman doubled down on exposing the left-back black spot, replacing Steven Bergwijn – who had played just fine but was carrying injury – with Malen and his lightning pace at the break. Sure enough the ­Borussia Dortmund forward got in behind almost instantly and his cut-back should have been finished by first Simons then Memphis Depay, but wasn’t.

Just before the hour Malen sprang clear once again, but crossed when he perhaps ought to have shot. From the resulting corner Virgil van Dijk hit the post with a header. Four minutes later and Nita denied Gakpo dramatically after the Dutchman had run the length of the field. From that corner, Gakpo got the ball into the net only to be denied by VAR for offside.

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The tide was unrelenting, but the longer the score stayed as it was, everyone knew the laws of football physics would point towards a Romanian comeback. Iordanescu rolled the dice with 20 minutes to go, taking off Hagi, the striker Denis Dragus and the midfield linchpin Marius Marin for fresh legs.

There was a controversial moment when a promising break was cut short for a foul on Dumfries which, on camera, was less than convincing. In truth, though, Romania only became more open as the game went on and Iordanescu made no complaints about the outcome.

With the clock running down, substitute Joey Veerman took a cute Gakpo backheel and shot just wide, Gakpo had a close-range shot blocked when played in by a driving Malen.

With five minutes remaining, the roles reversed and Gakpo bustled into the box, knocked his way past Dragusin on the byline and gave Malen a tap-in, an invitation the Dortmund man duly accepted. Malen scored again with the final kick of the match, bursting through for the umpteenth time and driving in at that same near post.

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