Netherlands v Ukraine from Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam. The lineups are in.
Floodlights shine down on the Johan Cruijff arena. The Dutch king and queen look on. The classic orange kits glimmer. With the Netherlands kicking off at last, Euro 2020 feels real.
Frank de Boer arrives after being lambasted all week for unleashing his team in a 3-5-2 formation. Planes with tactical instructions took to the sky.
Frankie de Jong, an NBA point guard wearing Nike boots, continually picks up the ball between Ukraine’s forwards. His head swivels as he dribbles past them into midfield.
Wout Weghorst (for the Netherlands) and Roman Yaremchuk (for Ukraine) score. Both add evidence to my “Euro 2020 is a striker’s tournament” theory.
Still this match, even with the incredible Ukraine comeback, is a about one player.
He didn’t score or provide an assist. Not even a hockey assist. But Depay is a rare species in modern football. A genuine maverick, a #10. Sure, he lines up as a striker for the Netherlands, and scored 20 league goals for Lyon. But his style of play reveals the truth. He’s a #10.
With the ball he mesmerizes. The constant controls with the sole of his foot. The through balls between the centerback and the fullback no one else spots. The stoicism to physical defending. Using the defender’s momentum against himself, and then executing his signature drag back spin move. Football Akido.
Without the ball he mesmerizes. He struts across the pitch, socks sagged around his shins as we await magic to swish from his Under Armour boots.
He’ll start on the left and drift into #10 spaces. Collecting the ball a foot or two near the d. His back to goal, he’ll turn. Maybe play a one-two, try a nutmeg, or a clever chip over the top.
Today nothing came off for Depay. But whenever he receives the ball he’s a thriller novel, a page tuner. He always leaves you feeling something special will happen.
Don’t look away.