Flying Dutchman Dumfries emerges as breakout star of Euro 2020

Amsterdam (AFP) – Coming into Euro 2020, Netherlands coach Frank de Boer decided to change the way his team play, a move that sparked fierce debate in the football-mad country but has helped create a new star in orange.

Denzel Dumfries has caught the eye like no other player in the opening week of the competition, scoring in both of the Netherlands’ wins against Ukraine and Austria as the Dutch secured qualification for the last 16 in first place of Group C with a game to spare.

With De Boer dealing with injury problems and a dearth of top-class wingers to succeed Arjen Robben, he opted to ditch the once-sacred 4-3-3 formation and switch to a 3-5-2.

Before the Ukraine match in Amsterdam last Sunday, a plane flew over the team’s training base trailing a banner urging De Boer not to make the change.

He did, and Dumfries, the flying right wing-back, has been the biggest beneficiary.

Against Ukraine, the PSV Eindhoven player helped set up his side’s first two goals. After they squandered their two-goal lead, Dumfries headed in a late winner.

On Thursday against Austria, back at the Johan Cruyff Arena, the 25-year-old won the early penalty converted by Memphis Depay to put them in front.

He then scored his side’s second goal and again walked away with the man-of-the-match award.

Part of the new generation of Dutch players to be promoted after their failure to reach the 2018 World Cup, Dumfries had not scored for his country in 19 caps before the Euro.

The last player to score in his first two European Championship games for the Oranje was Ruud van Nistelrooy, now a member of De Boer’s backroom staff.

“The most important thing is not my performance, it’s the three points,” insisted Dumfries as the Dutch eased into the knockout stage on their return to a major tournament for the first time since the 2014 World Cup.

– ‘Not a surprise’ –

However, he is now the inevitable focus of attention in De Boer’s side ahead of the obvious star names like Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay or Matthijs de Ligt.

“Denzel is wonderful. He is really fit, he is fast, he runs a lot and he is also a good football player. I’m not surprised he is doing so well,” said captain Georginio Wijnaldum.

“We are used to seeing a 4-3-3 but now with the 3-5-2 he has more freedom to get forward and he is just using his quality.”

Dumfries himself played down his role in the first two games, remarking that “the space and the opportunities are there for me and I am just trying to make the most of them.”

Because the top Dutch players tend to be lured abroad, it already seems increasingly likely that Dumfries will be the target of offers from clubs in Europe’s biggest leagues after the tournament.

The Rotterdam-born full-back played for local club Sparta and then for Heerenveen before joining PSV on a five-year deal in 2018.

His time at the Philips Stadion has coincided with a period of Ajax dominance but PSV are well represented in De Boer’s squad.

As well as Dumfries there is attacking duo Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. The latter, who scored 19 times in the league this season, came off the bench to set up Dumfries’ goal against Austria.

Among the clubs now being linked with Dumfries are Everton and Napoli, but he has been one of the most exciting players in Europe in his position for some time.

“What we are seeing from him now is not a surprise, it’s not like we are only seeing this from him at a big tournament,” former Chelsea and Netherlands international right-back Mario Melchiot told the BBC, and Dutch supporters will be hoping there is more still to come.

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