The pulsating five-goal second half of this Group C match lit up day three of the tournament, as Ukraine staged a comeback from two behind with 12 minutes remaining before Denzel Dumfries snatched memorable headed winner moments from the final whistle. It forced bitter disappointment down Ukraine’s throat and gave the Netherlands the perfect start to a 10th European Championship challenge. Their victory in Amsterdam gave Frank de Boer’s Oranje three points to match those Austria picked up in Bucharest earlier in the day.
“This is the team that I would like to see,” said De Boer. “We played very balanced and also dominated. We can be proud and hopefully we can make some more steps like we have been doing so far.”
De Boer, though, had to concede that allowing the lead to slip was not, actually, what was desired. “This is why we analyse these games almost until we die because we hope to not do so again. Let’s say this will not happen again,” the head coach said.
Roman Yaremchuk’s equaliser had appeared the final salvo of a scintillating 45 minutes. It seemed, also, to have averted a sixth consecutive Ukraine loss at the competition finals, since they won their opening game at Euro 2012, while giving Andriy Shevchenko’s side belief they might make the knockout stage.
But the draw was not to be and so Ukraine have to pick themselves up before facing North Macedonia next. “First of all I would like to thank my team for the reaction they showed especially after we were down 2-0 and almost lost the game at that point,” Shevchenko said. “The team showed themselves very well.”
After the Netherlands’ nine-year absence from the finals, the 16,000 inside the Johan Cruyff Arena gave De Boer’s men a rousing greeting that featured high emotion for Ukraine from those from the war-torn nation.
Memphis Depay was the first to decorate the evening, swooping on the ball in his half, and powering 60 yards towards Georgiy Bushchan’s goal. The run featured a nutmeg of Illia Zabarnyi and a shot that was a powder-puff pea-roller, simple for the keeper to collect.
What should concern De Boer is how his side were flaky when defending, despite a switch to a 5-3-2 in the buildup to the tournament. This was shown especially when Ukraine countered fast as when Andriy Yarmolenko did, skating at a Daley Blind who just about chugged back to cover, though the move broke down after the ball went in-field.
Yarmolenko was as effervescent as Depay, Ukraine’s best performer throughout. His next act was to zip into the area and cause Patrick van Aanholt to execute a precisely timed tackle or Felix Brych would not have waved away the penalty appeals as the No 7 went down.
Now came the standout passage of an entertaining opening half: slick work had the Netherlands dropping the ball onto Georginio Wijnaldum’s toes and when an instant volley was deflected, Bushchan had to readjust smartly before pulling off a superb save. Then, came the period’s poorest miss: from point-blank range the otherwise excellent Dumfries put a header wide.
Thus far the game fell into the category of those stuttering affairs that often mark teams’ opening encounters at major tournaments. When a two-goal burst from the Netherlands came, both featured clumsy errors. Sadly, too, each were Vitaliy Mykolenko’s, with Dumfries involved in both.
First the latter leapt on the ball when the defender slipped in possession, following this with a delivery that sliced across Ukraine’s area tantalisingly in front of Bushchan. The No 1 could only palm this into the path of a galloping Wijnaldum, who sent the Dutch faithful ballistic with a curving finish. Moments later Mykolenko was outmuscled by Dumfries near goal and when the ball popped back to Wout Weghorst the rangy Wolfsburg striker smashed home for a 2-0 lead, VAR having ruled no foul on the left-back.
Yarmolenko, though, read a different script, making the closing minutes invigorating by beating Maarten Stekelenburg with a 20-yard peach. It had the yellow-shirted fans that studded the arena hoping again. That turned to elation when Yaremchuk headed home, only for Dumfries to win the match all over again for the Netherlands.
“A great moment,” the wing-back said. “You can also feel a bit of frustration from my first half and this was a big relief. That’s the reason why I scored the goal, we kept believing in it.”