The Dutch team reached its first European Championship quarterfinal in 16 years with a 3-0 win over Romania on Tuesday after its best performance by far at Euro 2024.

Cody Gakpo broke the deadlock in the 20th minute and substitute Donyell Malen scored two late goals to send the Dutch to their first quarterfinal in the tournament since 2008.

“I think the whole performance today was outstanding and that’s what we need to have a chance to continue in this tournament,” coach Ronald Koeman said. “This is the level. If you go down in that level, then we don’t reach the final.”

The Netherlands had missed a plethora of earlier opportunities to add to the lead and captain Virgil van Dijk also hit the woodwork. It was nevertheless a much-improved display compared to its disappointing group stage performance, which ended in a 3-2 loss to Austria.

Koeman’s side could get a quick rematch in Berlin on Saturday if Austria beats Turkey in the final round of 16 match later Tuesday.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to explain why you play bad,” Koeman said. “Even today, the start was difficult. They were really aggressive. But finally we found our ball position.

“What we created was good football … Maybe one critical point was that it took too long to score the second one. … It’s difficult to explain why one time you play badly and the next time you are really sharp from the beginning.”

It was nevertheless a match to remember for Romania and its loud mass of yellow-clad fans, who have lit up the tournament. It was only the second time Romania had qualified for the knockout stage at a European Championship and it did so as group winner.

The bouncing yellow wall at one end of the stadium gave its team such a magnificent send-off — singing and applauding the players long after the final whistle — that it was almost as though Romania had won the game.

“Today we ended a great story, which we started two years ago. We continued that story here in Germany along with the fans of the national team,” Romania coach Edward Iordănescu said. “The team gave a great effort, but there is some sadness.

“We wanted more, but we gave our all. Thank you to my lads, the supporters and Romanians everywhere in the world who supported us.”

Romania had dominated possession until Gakpo’s goal, but never really tested Netherlands goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen. Instead the opener came when Xavi Simons surged forward before finding Gakpo on the left. The Liverpool forward cut inside the blue-haired Andrei Rațiu and fired into the near bottom corner.

It was Gakpo’s third goal of the tournament, making him joint top scorer along with Germany’s Jamal Musiala, Georges Mikautadze of Georgia and Ivan Schranz of Slovakia.

“We tried to surprise the Netherlands today and I think it worked well until the 20th minute,” Iordănescu said.

The goal seemed to give the Dutch confidence and they had several chances to extend their lead. A huge section of their orange-clad fans thought they scored again six minutes later when Stefan De Vrij was allowed a free header on a corner but he planted it just wide of the right post, rippling the sidenetting.

A combination of good goalkeeping from Florian Niță and wayward finishing from the Dutch kept Romania firmly in the match until seven minutes from time.

Van Dijk also saw a header come off the right post in the second half and Gakpo had a goal chalked off for offside, but turned provider when he managed to just keep the ball in play, under pressure from Radu Drăgușin, and prodded it back from the byline for Malen to poke home.

And the Dutch capped a dominant performance in stoppage time when Simons released Malen for a surging run from the halfway line before slotting past Niță.

Not only did Malen have to dodge the Romanian defense, which had rushed back to frantically try to close him down, but he also had to cut around a shoe on the field — presumably thrown by a Romanian fan behind the goal.

Niță had kicked away the other shoe from the same pair as Malen was bearing down on his goal.

Source: AP