If it was a fitting farewell to Euro 2020’s oldest forward, one of its finest provided further proof of the Dutch revival. After sitting out the two previous major tournaments, the Netherlands march on as winners of Group C.
As Goran Pandev bowed out of international football, two decades after his debut, Memphis Depay provided a glimpse of why Barcelona have just signed him.
The latest addition to the tradition of Dutchmen at the Nou Camp was elusive and excellent as his side were incisive and irresistible. Depay took his goal in composed fashion and was integral in each of Gini Wijnaldum’s double, which means the captain now has more goals for the Netherlands than the great Marco van Basten.
The Dutch won all three games and North Macedonia lost all of theirs, but qualifiers via the Nations League acquitted themselves well in a battle between youth and experience.
The 19-year-old Ryan Gravenberch became the third youngest footballer to start a major tournament game for Holland and showed his precociousness when he whipped a second-minute shot over the bar.
He was not born when Pandev first played for his country in 2001. He was given a guard of honour by his team-mates when substituted. Before kick-off, he was presented with a Dutch shirt with 122 on it, marking the number of caps he has won in the last 20 years.
The 2010 Champions League winner had announced his international retirement with his status as his country’s greatest player cemented by scoring their maiden goal on the big stage against Austria.
At 37, his legs may be going but Pandev showed his enduring class while the minnows proved how enterprising they have been. Ivan Trichkovski had a goal disallowed, the offside flag denying Pandev an assist while, after a lovely flick from the veteran, Aleksandar Trajkovski drove a low shot against the post. After his departure, Darko Churlinov became the second Macedonian to have a goal chalked off for offside.
But the opener was painful for Pandev. Perhaps Daley Blind fouled him but it allowed Depay to start and completed a slick counter-attack by sliding in a low shot from Donyell Malen’s cross.
Thereafter, the Netherlands showed their power. Goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski made a point-blank block from Denzel Dumfries; the marauding wing-back lost his goal-a-game record when he came off at half-time, along with Stefan de Vrij. Trichkovski made a brilliant goal-line clearance to turn Matthijs de Ligt’s header over the bar before Wijnaldum got an eight-minute brace.
Paris Saint-Germain’s recent recruit had a tap-in after Depay sashayed clear to pick him out. His predatory instinct was apparent again when he materialised to score the rebound after Depay had a shot saved.
Malen had released him with a slide-rule pass and the PSV Eindhoven forward impressed as an alternative to the hulking Wout Weghorst, who was confined to a cameo. His first contribution was to rattle the bar after a pass from Frenkie de Jong. Wijnaldum also spurned a chance for his hat-trick but it was a day to encourage Barcelona, PSG and the Dutch.