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

  • T20 World Cup: Kohli insists India will not press panic button after Pakistan loss T20 World Cup: Kohli insists India will not press panic button after Pakistan loss

    Virat Kohli will not press the panic button after Pakistan defeated his India side in a 10-wicket thumping at the T20 World Cup.

    India had lost just one of their last eight T20I meetings with Pakistan while they had collected five successive T20 World Cup wins but Azam's side prevailed in their Super 12 Group 2 opener.

    Kohli's 57 – his 29th half-century in the format in which he is the leading run scorer in history (3,216) – guided India to 151-7.

    However, India had lost all eight games defending 160 or lower and that trend continued Sunday.

    Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan combined for a 152-run opening stand, the highest opening partnership against India and the second-highest in the history of the competition, to see Pakistan to a maiden victory over India in the competition.

    Yet despite conceding Pakistan outclassed his side, Kohli insisted India would not begin to worry in the early stages of the tournament.

    "We did not execute the things that we wanted to but credit is certainly due – they outplayed us today," Kohli said at the post-match presentation.

    "When you lose three early it's very difficult to come back, especially when you know the dew is coming. They were very professional with the bat as well. 

    "Hitting through the line was not as easy in the first half as it seemed in the Pakistan innings, so when you know the conditions can change, you need 10-20 extra runs. 

    "But some quality bowling from Pakistan didn't let us get off the blocks. We're certainly not a team that presses the panic button, it's the start of the tournament, not the end."

    Meanwhile, Azam – who is the leading scorer in the last three years of T20I cricket with 1,241 runs – credited Shaheen Afridi's excellent opening bowling spell in which he managed 3-31, while also praising his opening partner Rizwan.

    "We executed our plans well and the early wickets were very helpful," Azam said after Kohli had spoken. 

    "Shaheen's wickets gave us a lot of confidence and the spinners dominated as well. The plan with Rizwan is always to keep it simple. We tried to get deep in the crease and from about the 8th over the dew came in and the ball came on nicely. 

    "This is just the start, we have the confidence to build on now. It will remain match by match for us. 

    "The pressure on us wasn't that much - we weren't thinking of the record against India at all. I only wanted to back all our players who've been preparing well. 

    "When you play tournaments before a big World Cup, it helps and our players came in with a lot of confidence because of that."

  • Klopp suggests Salah wants to end his career at Liverpool after 'insane' Man Utd thrashing Klopp suggests Salah wants to end his career at Liverpool after 'insane' Man Utd thrashing

    Jurgen Klopp has suggested star forward Mohamed Salah wants to end his career at Liverpool following the Reds' 5-0 thrashing of rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.

    Liverpool romped to a big win in Manchester with Salah hitting a hat-trick and grabbing an assist for Naby Keita, with Diogo Jota also getting on the scoresheet.

    Liverpool head coach Klopp was full of praise for Salah, who became the first away player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford since Ronaldo did so for Real Madrid in the Champions League in April 2003, while he is only the second player to do so while playing for Liverpool after Fred Howe in November 1936. 

    "The fifth goal, Mo was there to get the goals and he deals with the fuss that everyone makes around him," Klopp said to Sky Sports. "He enjoys his football and long, long, long, may it continue. I knew already (he wants to end his career here), I know the situation."

    Klopp was also stunned by the manner of his side's win and hailed their clinical performance after the Reds recorded their largest margin of victory against United since October 1895, winning 7-1 at Anfield. It was also Liverpool's greatest margin of victory in the fixture away from home. 

    The German also explained that the Reds intentionally eased off at 5-0 to lower the risk of further injuries after James Milner was forced off early and Keita was carried off on a stretcher after a two-footed tackle from Paul Pogba that saw the Frenchman sent off.

    "What can I say? Did I expect that? No," Klopp continued. "What we did in the last third was insane. Pressing high, winning balls, scoring wonderful goals. I told them at half-time to play better.

    "We started incredibly well and stopped playing football. We controlled the game after the fifth, it was not about scoring more, just trying to get out without more injuries.

    "The result is insane, I asked if there was one like this in history and if there isn't then it will take a while. The players put a nice piece in the book. It is special but we don't celebrate like crazy, we have respect for the opponents. We were lucky in some moments, United are not in their best moment.

    "Three points against a real opponent but you have to understand these games right. We got lost against Aston Villa and you have to learn off it. We smashed Crystal Palace once and the results are not interesting. I analyse the games, we can play better football and have to concentrate more.

    "I couldn't be happier, it is exceptional. Absolutely outstanding. I have a few defeats in my mind which was not necessary but we won today so we drink beer on the way home.

    "James Milner has a hamstring, he showed me something was not right. Naby Keita we have to see, a full-throttle [tackle] on the shin."

    Salah spoke of the Reds' title ambitions after becoming the top-scoring African player in Premier League history, his 107 goals taking him clear of Didier Drogba's 104, while also becoming the first-ever Liverpool player to score in three consecutive away games against United in all competitions.

    "I think it is great to win 5-0 here, we knew before the game it would be tough if we did not play our game," Salah said to Sky Sports. "We knew they will come and try to give everything so we had to give 100 per cent.

    "As long as the team keep winning I am happy and to give my best to the team to win. We know what it takes to win the Premier League, we did it two years ago. A big win here but still only three points.

    "We try to win each game and try to win the title. We need to play to win everything. From our heads from pre-season, we need to win the Premier League and hopefully, we go for that."

  • Solskjaer reflects on 'darkest day' as he shoulders responsibility for Man Utd's 5-0 defeat Solskjaer reflects on 'darkest day' as he shoulders responsibility for Man Utd's 5-0 defeat

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer labelled Manchester United's 5-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool as his "darkest day" as manager of the club.

    United's poor start to the season hit a potential nadir on Sunday as Liverpool ran riot at Old Trafford.

    Mohamed Salah became the first Premier League player to score an away hat-trick against United, with Naby Keita and Diogo Jota having put Jurgen Klopp's team in control inside the opening 15 minutes.

    Paul Pogba came on from the bench for a calamitous 15-minute cameo in which he conceded possession for Salah's hat-trick goal before seeing red for a lunge on Keita, though United at least managed to keep the Reds out while down to 10.

    Having seen their team go into half-time 4-0 down for the first time in a Premier League game, United's fans let their feelings known as the players and Solskjaer walked off, and the atmosphere hardly improved after the final whistle.

    Solskjaer appears to be under mounting pressure, with United relying on last-minute winners to see off Villarreal and Atalanta in the Champions League in recent weeks, while they have lost three of their last four top-flight matches, conceding 11 times and scoring just three in return.

    "It is not easy to say something apart from it is the darkest day I have had leading these players," a dejected Solskjaer told Sky Sports.

    "We were not good enough individually and as a team, can't give a team like Liverpool those chances but unfortunately we did.

    "The whole performance was not good enough. We created openings, they had chances and they have been clinical. The third goal decided the game."

    Asked who had to take responsibility, Solskjaer replied: "It is mine, that is it. The coaching staff are very, very good, brilliant.

    "I choose the way we approach the game, we were not clinical enough and gave too much space and when you give good players space they score."

    United decided to try and press Liverpool from the off, a tactic that swiftly proved naive, though Solskjaer did not regret his approach. 

    "We are at home, playing against Liverpool, we have gone here over the last two and half years and had a similar approach to high press but today they scored on their chances I think as United we should always try to stamp our authority on the game," he said.

    "That fourth goal is when you go into half time with having to score one every 15 minutes. I know these boys are capable of it. The fourth, that was probably game over.

    "You can look at last season we lose to Spurs 6-1 this is worse, miles worse. This is miles worse for me as a Manchester lad. I've just got to say we have to get over this as quickly as we can."

    Solskjaer knows questions over his future will only increase, but he insisted he is in no mood to give in.

    He added: "I have come too far, we have come too far as a group. We are too close to give up now.

    "It is going to be a difficult one. The players will be low but there's loads of characters there. We know we are rock bottom, we can't feel any worse than this. Let's see where we take it."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.