Georginio Wijnaldum double powers Netherlands past North Macedonia

The Netherlands are beginning to resemble a juggernaut no other nation will relish trying to halt. Two goals from Georginio Wijnaldum sent the Dutch captain joint top of Euro 2020’s scoring chart on three, as his side ended Group C as emphatic winners.

Frank de Boer’s men have returned a perfect nine points via results of 3-2, 2-0 and now 3-0. The 3-5-2 formation the head coach switched to before the tournament will no longer be questioned, and common sense suggests the Oranje will be better again in Sunday’s last-16 tie in Budapest.

Still, De Boer talked of lax concentration in the first half, particularly, as his team were caught out on the counter, when both Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong overloaded in attack from midfield.

“We had some great moments and also some bad ones, we were really sloppy – when Georginio and Frenkie play high then you have no defence left,” the head coach said. “At the end we can be very positive and I have a good feeling.”

From kick-off the vibe in the stadium was feelgood, firstly because of the Netherlands’ form, and secondly as this contest was the swansong (and 122nd cap) for the remarkable Goran Pandev. North Macedonia’s captain, though, had to watch as the opening effort flew from the boot of Ryan Gravenberch. A pattern of a Netherlands thrust against North Macedonia parry was set.

Igor Angelovski’s side hoped to provide an impenetrable shield, then look for the chance of a quick raid. They showed how when Ivan Trichkovski broke free and beat Maarten Stekelenburg, but the No 7 was offside.

A second Dutch fright came when Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 20-yard effort smacked off the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.

But then the Netherlands caught their opponents with a sucker punch. From his own half Donyell Malen tapped the ball right to Memphis Depay, who returned it to the overlapping former Arsenal trainee. Next followed a second one-two between the pair as the ball went from Malen to Depay, who stroked home a left-footed finish.

The Dutch soon went close to doubling the lead but Stole Dimitrievski blocked Malen’s attempt to play in Denzel Dumfries. North Macedonia, though, were intent on keeping the Netherlands honest: Arijan Ademi fashioned a run that had him twisting in front of Stekelenburg before Matthijs de Ligt hoofed the ball clear.

De Boer had bemoaned how ball retention in the previous outing against Austria was not “very Dutch”. While possession might have been better this time – at the close their mark was 56% against 44% – it hardly mattered, as his team were in charge, led by Depay and Gravenberch, who thrummed with invention.

De Boer had been quizzed in the buildup if he might switch to a 4-3-3 and in the second half the change was made. This new configuration came after Stefan de Vrij, a central defender, was replaced at the break by Jurriën Timber, who went to right-back, while Dumfries was superseded by Steven Berghuis, who was further advanced on the wing.

The head coach saw his tinkering reap dividends as North Macedonia were instantly overrun and went close to crumbling. De Ligt had a header repelled off the goalline by Trichkovksi and then the Dutch scored a second that had felt inevitable. Depay had been close to rampant throughout and here he tore another hole in the opponent’s rearguard with a pass that the lurking Wijnaldum stroked home.

This had the Johan Cruyff Arena in raptures, a mood that continued when a slick sequence involving De Jong and Depay had the latter’s strike parried by the unfortunate Dimitrievski straight into Wijnaldum’s path, Paris Saint-Germain’s new signing securing a third goal in three outings to draw alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick at the head of the Golden Boot charts.

With 22 minutes left off went Pandev to a heartening ovation. If this was not the way “the King” wanted to end two decades of national service, his is a CV to warm him in his retirement.

“I thank Goran Pandev for all he has done for football in North Macedonia,” said Angelovski, who indicated his tenure will end when his contract expires next month.