Netherlands collapse rests heavily on De Ligt's hulking shoulders

By Sports Desk June 27, 2021

The Netherlands have been one of the most obviously entertaining and thrilling sides to watch at Euro 2020 and the opening stages of their shock 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic in Budapest was no exception.

Frank De Boer's side were rapid and relentless down the flanks and, by the time Denzel Dumfries peeled infield and charged into the centre-forward position to collect Daley Blind's raking pass, a bedraggled Czech backline might have found it easier to be marking all 50,000 inhabitants of the Scottish town with which the rampaging right wing-back shares a name.

Tomas Kalas managed to force Dumfries wide and made a vital, scampering challenge. There is entertainment in such last-ditch defending too, although it rarely looks much fun for the protagonist.

Seven minutes before half-time, it was impossible to ignore a towering man in orange who appeared to be deriving little enjoyment from what was unfolding.

Some worryingly passive Dutch defending let Lukas Masopust find Antonin Barak in the area. In flew Matthijs de Ligt with a goal-saving challenge. The Juventus centre-back howled at everyone within earshot. He was furious.

 

De Ligt the leader

At that moment, it felt like the 21-year-old was in the process of turning in a defining performance to quell the hum of criticism that has soundtracked the past two years of a career that still promises so much.

"De Ligt is the centre-back of our defence. He needs to become much more of a leader than he is now," Netherlands great Marco van Basten told the NOS channel in a curiously harsh criticism after De Ligt returned to help his side to a clean sheet against Austria following the chaotic 3-2 win over Ukraine.

"He went to Italy to learn how to defend more, but I think he didn't learn much there. He needs to lead the rest much more."

De Ligt left Ajax after their celebratory 2018-19 campaign already looking like a born leader. It was hard to imagine those credentials being questioned. But a transitional year at Juventus as Maurizio Sarri tried to implement a new style, followed by last season's ignominy of surrendering the Serie A title under Andrea Pirlo amounted to an unforgiving education in Italy's top flight.

Still, he managed to retain an admirably positive outlook.

"I'm really lucky as I'm playing with almost everybody I'd be watching if I was a young player," De Ligt told The Athletic midway through 2020-21.

"[Leonardo] Bonucci is really good in the build-up, so I talk to him about that and watch what he is doing. [Giorgio] Chiellini is really good at marking, so I'm trying to learn from him too.

"I play with [Virgil] Van Dijk [for the Netherlands]. In the end, though, it's so important that you develop your own game and don't start being a copycat of someone else."

Sunday's match, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee and the prospect of a charge for glory such as the one Bonucci is underpinning with Italy, looked like it might become the game where De Ligt stepped out of those considerable shadows.

De Ligt the scapegoat

As it was, his ill-timed stumble and handball to deny Patrik Schick a goalscoring opportunity – moments after Donyell Malen should have opened the scoring at the other end – engulfed the defender and his team-mates in a darkness they could not lift as the lights went out on their Euro 2020 bid.

"An experienced mature defender doesn't make the second mistake and lets the forward go on and score, because he doesn't leave his team with 10 men on the field," Gary Neville said on ITV after some horrid last-ditch defending that was no fun at all for the man involved.

 

De Ligt's red card makes him an obvious scapegoat. Everything changed when he went off. Save for the effervescent Dumfries charging forward to draw a yellow card from Vladimir Coufal, making a block to rival De Ligt's earlier effort to thwart Pavel Kaderabek and still causing havoc in the opposition half, there was little to recommend about how De Boer's men responded to adversity – their game management very much a minute-by-minute, reactive endeavour.

Tomas Holes' 68th-minute opener hastened the capitulation and the Golden Boot-chasing Schick put the result beyond doubt with his fourth of the tournament. The Netherlands were out, having not conceded a goal at any stage with De Ligt on the field.

He will not have wanted to perversely prove his worth in this fashion. De Ligt's tendency to find positives will be put to its biggest test after this shot at greatness slipped through his fingers because the ball did not.

Related items

  • Euro 2024 data dive: Rampant Germany claim biggest European Championships win Euro 2024 data dive: Rampant Germany claim biggest European Championships win

    Scotland were no match for Germany as the rampant Euro 2024 hosts made a dream start to the tournament on Friday.

    Florian Wirtz got the ball rolling in the 10th minute, becoming the youngest scorer of an opening goal at the European Championships in the tournament's history.

    The excellent Jamal Musiala soon made it 2-0, rifling home after he was set up by Kai Havertz inside the area.

    In Wirtz (21 years, 42 days) and Musiala (21 years, 109 days), Germany became the first team in European Championship history to have two players aged 21 or younger score in the same match.

    Havertz turned scorer when he slotted in from the penalty spot before half-time, with Scotland defender Ryan Porteous seeing red for a lunge on Ilkay Gundogan, after a VAR review.

    Porteous became the second Scottish player sent off at a major tournament, after Craig Burley in the 1998 World Cup against Morocco.

    It is the first time a player has been sent off in the opening game of the Euros since 2012, when both Sokratis (Greece) and Wojciech Szczesny (Poland) were dismissed in a 1-1 draw.

    Havertz's successfully converted spot-kick also ensured Germany went in at half-time 3-0 up – it is just the third time in European Championship history a team has scored three goals in the first half of a game, along with France vs Belgium in 1984 (3-0 at half-time) and France vs Iceland in 2016 (4-0 at half-time).

    Germany made their numerical advantage count to go on and secure the biggest win by a host nation in their opening match at a European Championship tournament, and their biggest victory ever at the Euros, with an own goal from Antonio Rudiger the only negative.

    Indeed, that own goal was kind to Scotland, who had only one shot, which they failed to get on target, and mustered an xG of only 0.01, in comparison to Germany's 2.17.

    It marks the first time Scotland have failed to have a shot on target in a major tournament match since 1992, when they faced the Netherlands in the Euros.

    Steve Clarke's team put in a sorry performance, and must now pick themselves up to face Switzerland. They will go into that match on Wednesday on the back of suffering their heaviest defeat at a major tournament since they lost 7-0 to Uruguay at the 1954 World Cup.

    Germany, meanwhile, already have one foot in the knockouts, and could get the job done by beating Hungary.

    Musiala really was sensational, completing five of his eight dribble attempts while also having six touches in the opponent's box – four more than Scotland managed altogether.

    And finally, this match was the first match in European Championship history to see a red card, a penalty scored and an own goal scored.

    Euro 2024 has started in style, even if Scotland fans will be in a hurry to forget this result.

  • Germany 5-1 Scotland: Five-star hosts make emphatic start at Euro 2024 Germany 5-1 Scotland: Five-star hosts make emphatic start at Euro 2024

    Germany enjoyed a wonderful start to their home Euro 2024 campaign on Friday as they thrashed 10-man Scotland 5-1 in Munich.

    A huge contingent of Scotland fans packed into the Allianz Arena in hope of witnessing their country's first major tournament victory since Euro 1996, but they were stunned into silence as Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala put Germany two goals up inside 19 minutes.

    Ryan Porteous was then sent off for a dismal lunge on Ilkay Gundogan shortly before half-time, allowing Kai Havertz to kill the game as a contest from the penalty spot. 

    Niclas Fullkrug came off the bench to score a tremendous fourth for Julian Nagelsmann's hosts, though Antonio Rudiger's own goal gave Scotland's supporters some small comfort late on.

    However, Emre Can – a late call-up to the squad – added further gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time, giving Germany the biggest ever win in an opening match at the Euros. 

    Germany needed just 10 minutes to go ahead, with Angus Gunn tipping Wirtz's low strike onto the post and in after Joshua Kimmich found the Bayer Leverkusen star unmarked on the edge of the area.

    Within nine further minutes, Germany were two up. Gundogan slipped Havertz into the area, and he kept his cool to tee up Musiala for a slammed finish high into the net.

    Gunn made a reflex save to keep out Gundogan's header, but Porteous caught the Barcelona midfielder with a high challenge from the rebound, causing referee Clement Turpin to award a penalty and brandish a red card following VAR review. 

    Havertz stepped up to take the spot-kick in first-half stoppage time, striking it straight down the middle as Gunn dived left to make it a case of damage limitation for Scotland. 

    Rudiger's 35-yard strike had Gunn at full stretch early in the second half, then Wirtz sent a half-volley over when presented with a golden chance at the back post.

    The outstanding Musiala was involved again as Germany got their fourth after 68 minutes, linking up with Gundogan before Fullkrug blasted his finish into the top-right corner.

    Scotland pulled one back with three minutes left as Rudiger put through his own net after a deep free-kick caused a goalmouth scramble, but Can restored Germany's four-goal cushion at the death, curling a 20-yard strike out of Gunn's reach and into the bottom-right corner.

    Wirtz and Musiala Germany's shining lights

    With an average age of 29 years and 22 days, Nagelsmann named Germany's oldest starting lineup for a World Cup or Euros match since a 1-1 draw with Romania at Euro 2000 (30 years, 86 days).

    However, in Wirtz and Musiala, Germany also started two players aged 21 or under at the Euros for the first time since 2004, when Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger faced Czechia. 

    Their two young guns led the way.

    Wirtz's strike made him the youngest player to ever score the opening goal at a European Championship (21 years, 42 days), but Musiala – just over two months Wirtz's senior – refused to be upstaged as he capped a flowing move with a powerful finish for 2-0.

    This is the first time two players aged 21 or under have scored for the same team in a Euros match.

    Porteous red caps miserable Scotland start

    Scotland arrived in Munich targeting their first Euros victory since 1996, having only won two of their previous nine matches at the tournament (two draws, five defeats).

    The gulf in quality between the sides was soon apparent, though, as Germany became just the second team to net three first-half goals in a Euros match. France have previously done so twice, scoring three against Belgium in 1984 and four versus Iceland in 2016.

    Things barely improved in the second half, with Scotland conceding at least five goals in a competitive match for the first time since November 2003, when they were beaten 6-0 by the Netherlands in a Euro 2004 qualifier. 

    While this was always likely to be Scotland's toughest assignment, they will also feel the consequences of their display against Switzerland, with Porteous suspended.

    He is the first Scotland player to be sent off at a major tournament since Craig Burley versus Morocco at the 1998 World Cup.

  • Euro 2024 social round-up: Mou and Fergie link up, Pickford's quiz and Pavard the photographer Euro 2024 social round-up: Mou and Fergie link up, Pickford's quiz and Pavard the photographer

    Euro 2024 hosts Germany got off to a flying start as they comprehensively dispatched Scotland 5-1 on Friday.

    Goals from Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala, Kai Havertz and Niclas Fullkrug blew Scotland away at the Allianz Arena.

    But while the football entertained, there was also plenty of action on social media.

    Here's a pick of the best posts.

    The special... two?

    Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson enjoyed a great rivalry on the touchline down the years, but there was no sign of that as the two watched on from the stands in Munich.

    Unfortunately for Ferguson, Scotland were on the receiving end of a hammering.

    We can only wonder what these two greats had to say about Scotland's sorry performance, though surely they will have been full of praise for Germany.

    Honouring a great

    Franz Beckenbauer passed away in January, and ahead of the opening game, his wife Heidi led a touching tribute to der Kaiser.

    Moral support

    Nathan Patterson is not fit to feature for Scotland, but the Everton full-back has travelled out to Germany to support his team-mates.

    Unfortunately for Scotland, it didn't quite work out, and Patterson will be needing to provide plenty of moral support after their heavy defeat in Munich.

    Pickford gets quizzed

    England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was fulfilling his media duties on Friday, and he stopped by to answer some fan questions ahead of the Three Lions' opener against Serbia.

    Pickford was quizzed on how he copes with the pressure as kick-off approaches - "Enjoy the moment", he said - while revealing former England shot-stopper Joe Hart, who retired last month, has served as an inspiration.

    Young guns exciting Schweinsteiger 

    Bastian Schweinsteiger helped Germany to World Cup glory in 2014, so it feels like he is pretty well placed to pass judgement on up and coming stars.

    And when asked on X for the players he was most excited to see in action at Euro 2024, the former Bayern Munich midfielder picked out Florian Wirtz, Cole Palmer and Rafael Leao.

    Wirtz certainly delivered, as he starred in Germany's big win over Scotland. Will Palmer and Leao be equally as impressive for England and Portugal respectively?

    Picture perfect

    Olivier Giroud is one handsome devil, so it's no surprise that he's a photographer's dream.

    That being said, it's rare that the person behind the camera is one of his team-mates, but Giroud could only smile, and offer a cheeky pose, as Benjamin Pavard sneakily grabbed a camera and tried to get the perfect shot while the France number nine was holding a press conference.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.