Weghorst snatches winner for Netherlands against Poland

Wout Weghorst (left) celebrates after scoring for Netherlands. [AFP]

Substitute Wout Weghorst snatched a late winner for the Netherlands in a 2-1 victory over Poland on Sunday in their opening Euro 2024 clash.

The Burnley striker, who burst into life at the 2022 World Cup, once again brought his best game to the big stage in Hamburg as Poland looked to have frustrated their opponents, despite injured striker Robert Lewandowski being unable to play.

The Barcelona forward's replacement Adam Buksa, headed Poland in front after 16 minutes before Cody Gakpo levelled with a deflected effort at the Volksparkstadion.

Netherlands failed to convert further openings and Poland improved as the game seemed to be heading for a draw in the Group D clash, before Weghorst intervened in the 83rd minute.

"I am very happy, this is indescribable, especially at a finals, so special, this is personally a dream scenario," said Weghorst.

"This is so important, to keep the good feeling going. This is just very nice for all of us. The ultimate goal is to win that cup together."

Clad in their traditional vibrant orange, a sea of bouncing Dutch supporters took over the streets of Hamburg before the game, hoping for a second European Championship trophy.

Coach Ronald Koeman, in his second stint at the helm, won the tournament with the Oranje as a player in 1988.

The Netherlands, who performed strongly two years ago at the Qatar World Cup after failing to reach Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, came out of the blocks quickly.

Despite lacking the star power of recent generations -- the likes of Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie -- their current trio of forwards are dynamic.

Liverpool winger Gakpo took the creative reins alongside Memphis Depay and Xavi Simons, and tested Wojciech Szczesny with a low drive.

Midfielder Tijjani Reijnders steered a good chance narrowly wide before Michal Probierz's Poland took the lead against the run of play with one of their first forays forward.

Antalyaspor striker Buksa planted a glancing header beyond Brighton goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen from Piotr Zielinski's corner after 16 minutes.

Szczesny saved well from Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk and Depay flashed two efforts off-target before Gakpo levelled.

The forward's effort from just outside the area deflected in off Bartosz Salamon, leaving Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny with no chance.

Missed chances

Gakpo almost put Netherlands ahead from close range after being teed up by Nathan Ake but his shot rose fractionally too high.

Sporting a striking white sweatband around his forehead, Depay fired agonisingly wide in first-half stoppage time as the Dutch maintained control and racked up shots.

Poland largely managed to stifle their opponents in a more even second half, with the Netherlands short of ideas.

Verbruggen saved from Jakub Kiwior at his near post, while the rampaging Denzel Dumfries threatened twice at the other end.

Stefan de Vrij headed a corner over but the fluency Koeman's side produced in the opening period was harder to come by as Poland's confidence grew.

It took Weghorst to finally put the Oranje ahead. He finished clinically with his first opportunity two minutes after coming on.

Ake, who also teed up Gakpo for the opener, slid a low cross into the box and Weghorst diverted it home with a tidy finish.

"The task was to win the first match at all costs, and we succeeded," said Van Dijk, who added that his team had to defend corners better.

"For the (first goal) he gets a free go at it, we have to pay attention to that, we have to be critical and I am also referring to myself."

Bolstered by their late winner, Netherlands next face tournament favourites France on Friday, while Poland take on Austria hoping to have Lewandowski fit to play.

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