Classy Georginio Wijnaldum shows he still has tools for attacking midfield role against Ukraine

The Netherlands’ breathless 3-2 win over Ukraine was as close to perfect as tournament football gets.

A balmy Sunday evening with all the windows open, two attacking sides both with a compelling narrative, Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist on commentary; it really does not get much better than this.

Going into the tournament there were fears that teams would be setting up conservatively due to the added protection of the qualifying spots for the best third-placed sides. While it is too early to say whether these predictions were entirely wide of the mark, any concerns that Frank de Boer’s side would be playing for a draw were put to bed about five minutes into this classic.

Football tactics represent a constant battle between competing philosophies, and against Ukraine De Boer was heavily influenced by the ‘no midfield, just vibes’ school of thought.

He set his charges up in a nominal 3-5-2 with a back three of Jurrien Timber, Stefan de Vrij and Daley Blind. Patrick van Aanholt and Denzel Dumfries were selected as the wing-backs and both pushed extremely high and wide in possession. So far, so normal.

Denzel Dumfries, Frenkie De Jong, Steven BerghuisDenzel Dumfries, Frenkie De Jong, Steven Berghuis

Denzel Dumfries grabbed the winner / BSR Agency/Getty Images

The real intrigue arrived when it became clear how midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum and Martin de Roon would be used. Right from the first whistle both players pushed forward at will, leaving the silky Frenkie de Jong to pull the strings from deep with help from Blind and Timber.

At times, the Dutch had as many as six players disrupting their opponent’s backline, all of whom – aside from Wout Weghorst perhaps – were capable of dropping between the lines to sow panic into Ukraine’s ranks.

This wonderfully mad system was not just great to watch, it also provided us with a timely reminder of just how good Wijnaldum is. For most of his time at Liverpool – but especially this season – Jurgen Klopp’s system necessitated him playing in a fairly reserved midfield role.

Let off his leash while on international duty he was not going to let his chance to attack go to waste. Operating mainly in the right half-space he engaged in some electrifying combinations with Dumfries and caught the eye with several driving runs.

This was not the only area that he went to work, though. Wijnaldum’s heat map showed a significant amount of touches down the left-hand side, as well as in his tried and tested deeper midfield area.

Most impressive of all were his touches in and around the penalty area. It has been a long time since we have seen Wijnaldum operating as a de-facto attacking midfielde,r but that was exactly what he did against Ukraine. In the first half he had a seemingly unstoppable shot well saved and he went one better after the break, showing composure to finish emphatically from just outside the 18-yard box.

Paris Saint-Germain, the club he will be joining after the tournament, will have watched his display with interest. He may have been bought with his Liverpool profile in mind, but against Ukraine he proved he has the potential to return far more than the two league goals he managed this season.

Netherlands 3-2 Ukraine: Player ratings as Dutch edge Group C thriller

A late header from Denzel Dumfries earned the Netherlands a 3-2 win over Ukraine in their opening game of Euro 2020, with all five goals coming in the second half.

In frenetic opening 45 minutes, the free-flowing Dutch enjoyed the better chances. Georginio Wijnaldum forced Heorhiy Bushchan into a particularly good save, while Dumfries squandered a good chance at the back post.

Just seven minutes after the break the Dutch found a breakthrough with Wijnaldum smashing home to make it 1-0. Not long after it was 2-0 with Wout Weghorst finishing clinically in the box on his first appearance in a major tournament.

It took a moment of magic from Andriy Yarmolenko – who curled in a fine effort with 15 minutes to play – to spark Ukraine to life and set up a tense finale. Four minutes later they found an unlikely equaliser with Roman Yaremchuk nodding home from a free kick.

Incredibly this quickfire double-salvo was not enough to snatch Ukraine a point, with Dumfries arriving at the back post to nod home with five minutes to play.

Here is how each set of players rated on an entertaining night in Amsterdam…


De Vrij was solid as a rock / OLAF KRAAK/Getty Images

Mark Stekelenburg (GK) – 6/10 – A very quiet afternoon, Yarmolenko stunner aside. We did not learn a lot about his abilities and question marks remain.

Jurrien Timber (CB) – 7/10 – A few shaky moments but he was largely fine. He looked very comfortable in possession.

Stefan de Vrij (CB) – 7/10 – Very good. Showed his class and composure by marshalling the backline effectively.

Daley Blind (CB) – 7/10 – Pushed forward to join the attack at times and was solid at the back.

Denzel DumfriesDenzel Dumfries

Dumfries was heavily involved / Olaf Kraak – Pool/Getty Images

Denzel Dumfries (RM) – 8/10 – Always involved. His energy was unbelievable and caused Ukraine all manner of problems. Should have scored in the first half and then did score in the second. Saying that, his defending was a bit suspect.

Martin de Roon (CM) – 6/10 – Ludicrous work rate. He found space effectively throughout but was a bit headless at times.

Georginio Wijnaldum (CM) – 8/10 – Popped up all over the place but did his best work in the right half-space. Some of his combinations with Dumfries were excellent and he took the goal excellently.

Frenkie de Jong (CM) – 7/10 – Added some much-needed composure to the Dutch’s manic midfield. Close to spotless in possession.

Patrick van Aanholt (LM) – 6/10- Always looked to get forward but was not quite as effective as Dumfries on the opposite flank. Made one very risky tackle in the first half which could have led to a penalty.

Frenkie De Jong, Wout WeghorstFrenkie De Jong, Wout Weghorst

Weghorst enjoyed himself / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Wout Weghorst (ST) – 7/10 – Provided a focal point when his side needed it and worked hard. Clinically grabbed the second goal but did lose his man for Ukraine’s equaliser.

Memphis Depay (ST) – 7/10 – A classy display. He was a constant threat in transition.

Nathan Ake – 6/10 – Slotted into the back three and will be hoping to start the next game. Excellent late assist.

Owen Wijndal – 6/10 – Did not do anything wrong.

Luuk de Jong – N/A

Joel Veltman – N/A

Donyell Malen – N/A

Andriy Pyatov, Denzel DumfriesAndriy Pyatov, Denzel Dumfries

Bushchan had a bust game / BSR Agency/Getty Images

Georgiy Bushchan (GK) – 7/10 – Made several excellent saves in the first half. Not great after the break, though, parrying the ball straight into the path of Wijnaldum for the first goal.

Oleksandr Karavaev (RB) – 6/10 – Put in a good shift. The Netherlands did not get much joy down the left-hand side.

Ilya Zabarnyi (CB) – 6/10 – Read things intelligently after suffering an early scare courtesy of Depay. Finished with four interceptions – a game high.

Mykola Matviyenko (CB) – 6/10 – His team’s most committed defender. He registered three blocks and four clearances.

Vitaliy Mykolenko (LB) – 5/10 – Did not offer a great deal which is a shame as Dumfries left a lot of space in behind.

Marten De Roon, Oleksandr ZinchenkoMarten De Roon, Oleksandr Zinchenko

Zinchenko played in midfield / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ruslan Malinovskyi (CM) – 6/10 – Tried to make things happen but was not particularly successful. Set up his side’s equaliser with a pinpoint free kick.

Sergiy Sydorchuk (CM) – 5/10 – Let the game pass him by somewhat. Did not get on the ball enough to show any quality.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (CM) – 4/10 – Needed to be more creative when he got the ball. He must improve on the ball if his team are to progress at the tournament. Poor defending for the winner.

EURO 2020 group C"The Netherlands v Ukraine"EURO 2020 group C"The Netherlands v Ukraine"

Yarmolenko scored a fine goal / ANP Sport/Getty Images

Andriy Yarmolenko (RW) – 7/10 – Underwhelmed for most of the game and then burst into life with a goal of the tournament contender.

Roman Yaremchuk (ST) – 7/10 – Movement was not bad but he did not get the service. When he finally did, he headed home beautifully.

Oleksandr Zubkov (LW) – 6/10 – Lasted about ten minutes before being forced to withdraw with injury.

Mykola Shaparenko, Marlos MarlosMykola Shaparenko, Marlos Marlos

Marlos was sub subbed / Koen van Weel – Pool/Getty Images

Marlos – 4/10 – A bit too relaxed about his defensive responsibilities. Hauled off with 20 minutes to play – the ultimate embarrassment.

Mykola Shaparenko – 6/10 – Added energy.

Major League Soccer community shows support for Christian Eriksen

The MLS community came together on Saturday to express immense support for Christian Eriksen, after he suffered a cardiac arrest during Demark’s match against Finland in the 2021 European Championship.

Minutes before the halftime whistle, the Denmark national team midfielder unexpectedly collapsed.

After the initial incident, his teammates and medical staff could be seen creating a circle around him for support and privacy. Though little information was given and  specifics remain unknown, UEFA tweeted that “the player has been transferred to the hospital and has been stabilized”. Hours later, the Danish Football Association added that the player was awake and undergoing medical treatment in Copenhagen.

The Group B match was suspended following the emergency, but resumed later that day. During the game, players took every opportunity they could to salute Eriksen and send well wishes.

Beyond the pitch and around the world, the football community displayed their support and stood in solidarity with Eriksen as he was wheeled away on a stretcher. Major League Soccer players, staff and fans took to many platforms to send well wishes, thoughts and prayers.

Beyond clubs, individual players took to twitter to show their raw emotions and feelings toward Eriksen following the incident.

Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff ‘pleased’ with 8 points in 8 games

MLS expansion team Austin FC managed a 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, enduring their roughest regular season match yet.

Austin have had a difficult start to their inaugural season, kicking off with a stretch of eight straight road games as their stadium nears completion.

They stand as Major League Soccer’s most recent expansion to take the field after being founded in 2018 and commencing playing in 2021. The draw against Sporting Kansas City leaves Austin with a current record of two wins, four losses and two draws on the road. Head coach Josh Wolff explained tactics are different on the road before commenting on the energy he hopes to maintain at home.

“Going on the road and playing the way we play isn’t easy,” Wolff said. “Today was probably a little more of a defensive posture. But there were the moments that we were able to hurt the opponent, and that’s what we try to do.

“But at home? There’s going to be urgency, there’s going to be excitement, there’s going to be a real drive to go get goals and win games at home because we know that’s where you try to grab as many points as you can. We look forward to that.”

But despite the eight consecutive away performances, Austin FC leaves with a total of eight points, which Wolff finds positive.

“Certainly eight points from eight games on the road, we’re fairly pleased with,” Wolff said on his video press conference after Saturday’s match. “Again, averaging a point per game on the road doesn’t seem amazing, but I know – I’ve been in this league a long time and that’s worthy of something. It’s certainly above average, I would say.

We have a lot of work still to do, but we look forward to getting to Q2 Stadium next week where we get to play in front of our fans for the first time in an amazing venue. We’ll recover from this and look forward to that.”

The biggest surprise has been Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver, who continuously proves himself as the team’s biggest asset. He kicked off the team’s inaugural season with a tremendous effort and completed many game-saving denials. Austin’s biggest concern lies in the offense as the attackers struggle to find the scoresheet, but Wolff remains confident with Stuver in goal.

“We’ve known Brad for a long time and clearly his performances in these first eight games speak for themselves,” he said. “There’s a way that we want to play, which is utilizing the ball and keeping it and building from the back, and then there is his ability to make saves. I think, more than anything, that’s where I’ve seen him grow and develop.”

Eljif Elmas helps prove North Macedonia are more than Group C whipping boys

UEFA’s decision to expand the European Championship to 24 teams in 2016 was controversial.

There was accusations that the move would cheapen the thrill of qualifying for the tournament, as well as leading to sterile group stage matches where lesser teams played to be one of the four best third-placed sides.

A lot of this criticism is valid, however, the expanded competition is not without its merits. By opening up the Euros to more teams, smaller nations long deprived of tournament football can have their moment in the sun.

No team encapsulates the good and bad of the new format more than North Macedonia. Finishing third in their initial qualifying group, behind Austria and Poland, they were afforded a second chance of progression via the Nations League. Earning this reprieve was not challenging – they had to top a group featuring Armenia, Gibraltar and Liechtenstein.

Placed into Path D of the playoffs, they only had to beat Kosovo – a FIFA nation since just 2013 – and lowly Georgia to reach their first ever European Championship. For some this painfully easy route to the competition is evidence of the Euros degradation.

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Pandev’s goal is set to be one of the images of the tournament / Mihai Barbu – Pool/Getty Images

However, North Macedonia’s display against Austria in their Euro 2020 opener was undeniable evidence of the advantages of lowering the bar for qualification.

There was a lot to get excited about during this game, which was played at a ruthless intensity with plenty of needle. Goran Pandev’s first-half equaliser was particularly joyous as the long receding 37-year-old had postponed his own retirement for one last shot of playing in a major tournament. Just as a quick aside, Pandev had scored two international goals before Jude Bellingham was even born.

Although the veteran’s moment of triumph will steal most of the headlines, Eljif Elmas’ display is also worthy of credit. There is something so seductive about the 21-year-old Napoli midfielder. Red-faced with his jet black hair contained by an Alice band, the youngster showed no sign of nerves in what was the biggest game of his career so far.

Prancing between the lines with a carefree exuberance, he misplaced just two of his 32 passes all game. These were not Harry Winks-esque backwards passes to his centre-backs either. Elmas was refreshingly arrogant despite his side’s underdog status, receiving the ball in tight areas and pirouetting around the Austrian press with ease.

He did his best work when linking up with the velvety Enis Bardhi – a similarly accomplished technician whose presence makes it even easier for neutrals to fall for these lovable underdogs.

Elmas so nearly had a decisive impact in the second half as well. With the scores level he hit a perfectly weighted through-ball on the spin that Boban Nikolov came painfully close to finishing off. North Macedonia would come to rue this close shave, with Austria rallying to a 3-1 victory soon after.

The scoreline may suggest a comfortable win for Austria but this was far from the case. North Macedonia put up much more than a brave fright in their first ever game at a major tournament. Instead, they definitively proved that they belong at the competition, with Elmas cementing his position as one to watch over the next ten days at least.