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Wout Weghorst, the Netherlands cult hero, hands Koeman a dilemma

<span><a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/players/420359/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Wout Weghorst;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Wout Weghorst</a> at the centre of the celebrations after scoring the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/netherlands/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Netherlands;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Netherlands</a>’ winner against Poland.</span><span>Photograph: Matt West/REX/Shutterstock</span>

Nothing Like Oranje is the Netherlands’ strap line and quite frankly there is nobody like Wout Weghorst. When the Dutch team bus departed the Volksparkstadion on the fringes of Hamburg at 6.12pm, victory over Poland safely stowed thanks to his super-sub heroics, there could not have been a more popular passenger on board. Weghorst finished the game very much front and centre. Ronald Koeman’s side got increasingly itchy feet after growing restless in search of a winner but with a single whoosh of the left boot, his first touch two minutes after stepping off the bench, Weghorst earned a 2-1 win to ensure a pitch-perfect start to the tournament.

Quite what Koeman does with Weghorst from here is the intriguing bit. About half an hour after Weghorst left the pitch to a sea of orange shirts singing his name, the Netherlands head coach was fielding questions about whether he would promote the striker to his starting lineup against France in Leipzig on Friday. Could Koeman turn to the Burnley striker from the off in the Group D glamour tie?

It is impossible to ignore the impact of a 6ft 6in striker with an endearing cartoonish energy, a cult hero if not superhero. He scored twice in the World Cup quarter-finals 18 months ago after replacing Memphis Depay and on Sunday, after again coming on for Depay, he registered the winner. Weghorst’s strike seemed to shock but he is a man in form; he has scored in his past three matches and has seven goals in his past 11 appearances for his country.

A smile unfolded on Koeman’s face as it was put to him that Weghorst does not scream Total Football. Weghorst is the antidote in many ways; his imposing frame and aerial prowess rail against the slick triangles and sweet touches. But there is a beauty to Weghorst’s work, a cold-blooded operator capable of moving in a kind of stealth mode. He is direct, often derided but – as evident when reading Nathan Aké’s deflected pass – deadly, too. “Wout is aggressive, he always takes initiative and he is a good header of the ball,” Koeman said. “He had one opportunity and he found the net. He is a different player. It is good because we have a way of acting differently with different players.”

Weghorst was miffed when, on the eve of the tournament, Koeman informed him that he would most likely feature as a substitute. The way the news went down speaks to Weghorst’s belief. He is awash with confidence in his ability; he is brash and big-headed. There was the well-documented post-match contretemps with Lionel Messi after a fractious Argentina defeat in Qatar. But his bullishness appeared well-placed in Hamburg. On the morning of the game he told his girlfriend, who was in Wolfsburg with their children in preparation for the players’ family day on Monday, he would make the difference late on. “These are always very easy interviews afterwards but I have proof on my phone that I said it,” Weghorst said. “I can show you the WhatsApps.”

As the Netherlands substitutes piled on to the pitch to join teammates in mobbing Weghorst, the 31-year-old puffed his cheeks, taking it in all in, seemingly more than happy to carry the load. Stefan de Vrij was first to embrace Weghorst with a bear hug before Jerdy Schouten followed. Weghorst has rarely not delivered for his country of late and yet there is still a sniffiness among supporters reluctant to concede he could be their best option at the crux of their attack. “He added value to the team because he has a different way of behaving and that’s great, that’s what we needed at that point of time,” Koeman said. Weghorst did not dress up his predatory instincts. “I know where my strengths lie,” he said. “I know I will have my value and be important. That has already happened.”

Cody Gakpo, who played on the left flank, was bright and scored a deserved equaliser. Depay, fit with a halo-like pristine personalised headband, is clearly Koeman’s preferred forward but wasted chances. There is a will for Xavi Simons, the talented 21-year-old who struggled to make a dent off the right against Poland, to create a stir this summer. Jeremie Frimpong, who also entered off the bench, is another fine attacking option. But within seconds Weghorst conquered, exhibiting substance over style. Tellingly, Koeman reiterated that he who would decide whether Weghorst gets the nod against France. “We will see what is best for the team,” he said, “not what is best for the player.”