Dutch football sniper Weghorst proves the value of the killer instinct

HAMBURG, Germany — The powerful center forward is sometimes shunned in modern football, but Dutch substitute Wout Weghorst spared the Netherlands an embarrassment on Sunday, showing the value of a No. 9 with a killer instinct in a 2-1 win over Poland at the 2024 European Championships.

There was no doubt that the Dutch were the dominant team against a Polish team that was perfectly content to sit back and wait for its moment.

But goals decide games and if the Netherlands want to go far in the tournament, they will have to sharpen their knives after their largely ineffective performance in Hamburg.

The Dutch started the game with a dynamic three-man attack consisting of Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay and Xavi Simons, who showed a lot of running and creative teamwork, taking the Poles apart and creating one chance after another.

They had 64% possession and 20 shots on goal, but aside from Gakpo's deflected effort to equalise in the 29th minute, chances came and went.

As the Netherlands' hopes of starting Group D with a win began to fade, coach Ronald Koeman brought Weghorst off the bench in the 81st minute, one of several changes he made to turn the tide in their favor.

Two minutes later, the Netherlands took the lead when Weghorst took a pass from Nathan Ake and fired the ball into the net with his left foot.

Weghorst, who came into the team at the 2022 World Cup when the Netherlands were 2-0 down against Argentina and scored twice, has scored with each of his last three shots on goal at major tournaments.

And to underline his qualities as a super-sub, it was the third game in a row in which he scored a goal as a substitute for the Dutch.

“A real number 9 knows exactly where to be to score goals like that,” said former Dutch striker and Dutch TV commentator Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Anyone who has followed Weghorst's club career might think that they see a different player than the one who plays for the Netherlands.

During his dismal loan spell at Manchester United last season, he failed to score a single goal in 17 league games. This season, he has scored seven goals in 28 Bundesliga games for his loan club Hoffenheim, and has scored the same number of goals in 11 appearances for the Dutch side this season.

Although the victory was deserved, the Poles can console themselves with their team's convincing performance after many had predicted a more significant defeat.

After the team narrowly qualified for the tournament via the playoffs following a miserable qualifying campaign, there was some concern among Polish fans, even though their form had been more promising recently.

With record goalscorer Robert Lewandowski, who has scored a remarkable 82 goals in 150 international matches, out through injury, it was clear that it would be a difficult task.

Sometimes the loss of the best player can be a blessing in disguise, because a team that relies too much on the brilliance of a single player needs to rethink its approach.

Adam Buksa, a big man replacing a big star, came in to lead the attacking line. The 1.93-meter-tall striker not only scored the first goal for Poland, but also gave the Dutch defense a headache with his overall play.

Lewandowski could be fit for Friday's second group game against Austria, but Buksa hopes he has done enough to leave him on the bench. REUTERS