‘Dangerous’ Gakpo’s growing goal threat propels Netherlands at Euros

Estimated read time 5 min read

Andre Ratiu was having a decent tournament until he got to Munich and was made to look a dud by Cody Gakpo. The full-back, with his blue hair and ability on the ball, was sent one way then the other and finally left in limbo as the Netherlands’ No 11 crafted the space to crash a pinpoint shot inside the near post and open the scoring in their last-16 tie with Romania.

The goal set aside some on-field nerves and the Dutch duly went on to put the Romanians to the sword. Well, eventually anyway. They crafted opening after opening and had 23 shots in total, but only six were on target, and it took until the final 10 minutes for the Oranje to seal the deal with a brace from Donyell Malen.

Of those six shots on target, three were from Gakpo, who now sits at the top of the golden boot table alongside Jamal Musiala and Georges Mikautadze with three goals from his four games. Gakpo scored three times during the Qatar World Cup in 2022, too, which means half his goals as an international have come at major tournaments.

Ronald Koeman mixed praise with a little joshing when assessing the performance of his forward. “His starting position is on the left side because he is really dangerous if he comes one against one with the right full-back,” the head coach said. “He can go inside, outside, he has his qualities, he’s strong. He then got a little bit tired and he chooses to play the nine [position]. Then he’s so tired that we made the change [Gakpo was substituted in the 84th minute]. He’s playing a great level this tournament, maybe the most important player until now. I hope that the rest can come to that level.”

In taking on Ratiu, and then later Radu Dragusin as he set up the second goal for Malen, Gakpo showed the qualities his manager was talking about. It was also reflective of what Cesc Fàbregas meant when he described the 25-year-old as a “functional” player during the BBC’s coverage. It may have sounded like damning with faint praise, but really the Spaniard was acknowledging Gakpo’s ability to take on instruction and deploy it. Fàbregas also described him as “dangerous”.

Gakpo was the Dutch player of the year when he burst on to the international scene in Qatar and within weeks he had signed for Liverpool for £35m. What has followed since has required a period of adjustment, with the player acknowledging the help he has received from his Anfield teammates when he collected his man-of-the-match award in Munich on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t always go how you like, sometimes you have a spell where things don’t go your way,” Gakpo said. “But I have a great team at Liverpool, great people who are there for you, they kept believing in me and helping me. The last few games of the season we were also good, I played good games. I took that with me and kept working hard and I’m very happy I can be of value in this game tonight.”

Gakpo scored twice in the last three games of Liverpool’s season after what, by common consent, had been an underwhelming year to that point. But the underlying numbers added a wrinkle. They showed that Gakpo was becoming more of a goal threat, taking more shots, and almost doubling the number he got on target (he went from 0.74 shots on target per game in his debut half season to 1.31 in 2023-24). These kinds of figures were comparable to his performances in the Eredivisie, suggesting that through instruction and practice he had adjusted to a higher standard of competition.

This may be the Gakpo we are seeing now for the Dutch national team. Alongside all his other qualities; his height, his dribbling ability and his strength (as he showed against Dragusin), Gakpo is now becoming a reliable finisher. His first goal of the tournament was a deflection against Poland, albeit from an on-target shot, but his second against Austria was calm, efficient and into the top corner. Only a full-stretch save by Florin Nita and a desperate block by Razvan Marin prevented him from adding to his tally against Romania.

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In the tournament as a whole, Gakpo has now taken 11 shots and got seven on target. By comparison, the Euros’ leading shot-taker Cristiano Ronaldo (no surprise there), has taken 20 shots and got nine on target. Only Ronaldo, Kai Havertz and Romelu Lukaku have been more threatening with their shot taking than Gakpo and they each play through the middle as their country’s focal point of attack.

The nominal No 9 for the Netherlands is Memphis Depay, who is clearly valued by Koeman but has just one (lovely) goal to his name at this tournament, alongside a whole host of misses. Xavi Simons is emerging as a key player for the Dutch at No 10 but does not boast clinical finishing as one of his key strengths. The right side, meanwhile, remains in flux.

As Euro 2024 heads into its final stages, the margins will get tighter and the chances will become fewer and far between. To have a chance of winning the tournament you need a player who will take one. Gakpo might just prove to be that man for the Netherlands.

Source: theguardian.com

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