We knew heading into the 2022 Fifa World Cup that the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo was going to be an exciting player to watch given how he is getting linked with the biggest clubs in Europe on a regular basis. He showed us exactly why on Friday as he scored an exquisite goal for his second of the tournament in the Oranje’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador in Group A.
There was a lot of talk going into this World Cup about how the tournament would serve as a great platform for Gakpo to flaunt his talent as he continues to be profiled as one of the next big-money moves in Europe in the next year. He has been thriving at club level for PSV Eindhoven in 2022-23. The 23-year-old is the league’s top scorer with nine and has also been a regular provider too with 12 assists to his name. Overall, Gakpo has scored 16 goals and registered 18 assists in 28 appearances for club and country this term - he is on fire.
Now, in front of the cameras of the world, the young Dutchman is giving his potential suitors a glimpse of what they would be getting if they acquired his services. In the Netherlands’ opener against Senegal he gave his side the late breakthrough with a wonderfully-timed run and header to beat Edouard Mendy and help his side get up and running in their first World Cup finals since 2014.
After getting off the mark in matchday one, the versatile attacker had an even quicker impact against Ecuador. What makes Gakpo an excellent footballer is that he is comfortable with the ball on either his left or right foot. Although naturally favouring his right, he dispatched a rocketed effort with his left to put Louis van Gaal’s side ahead against Ecuador in what was at that point the quickest goal scored in the tournament, five minutes and four seconds. He followed in the footsteps of his teammate Memphis Depay by becoming the second player to score in his first two World Cup appearances after the former in 2014.
Similar to the Netherlands’ first game, they struggled to create many chances which allowed Ecuador to grow into the game. And while that is cause for concern, it highlights just how clinical Gakpo is as he has found chances limited in his first two matches of the tournament and still come away with two goals.
Some people will think this will have club officials at PSV worried... quite the opposite. With Gakpo delivering on football’s biggest stage, the higher his value, and if he continues to deliver for his side in Qatar the bigger the queue for his signature will grow.
As Ecuador started to get a foothold on proceedings, Brighton & Hove Albion’s Pervis Estupinan thought he had grabbed an equaliser just before half-time only for it to be disallowed due to Angelo Preciado’s offside positioning restricting Andries Noppert’s view.
Earlier, Enner Valencia stung the palms of Noppert. He was in the mood for goals after opening his account with a brace against Qatar on opening night. He was denied with his first opportunity but he more than made up for it with his second. In what was routine for a poacher, he positioned himself to capitalise after Noppert parried Estupinan’s shot into his path, giving him the simplest of finishes. The Ecuador captain made history as he has now scored his nation’s last six goals at World Cup finals, becoming the first player to do so for a South American country, while also putting him back on top of the tournament goal charts.
This suddenly put La Tricolor on the ascendency and moments later they rattled the crossbar through Gonzalo Plata as Noppert was left stranded and the Dutch defence looked disorientated. The second half certainly belonged to Ecuador and they caused the Dutch defence problem with each attack they conjured and they looked like the only team that could snatch the three points and all but seal their place in the round of 16.
It was a game of two halves so a point apiece was a fair reflection on the game and both teams can enjoy the fact they have taken four points from their first two games. The Netherlands should seal their place when they face Qatar, who as a result of this match have been eliminated, leaving it all to play for between Ecuador and Senegal in matchday three.