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Weghorst returns from World Cup clash with Messi and lifts Netherlands to beat Poland at Euro 2024

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — Being barked at by Lionel Messi in a testy post-game exchange that became a viral meme was a strange way for Wout Weghorst to leave the 2022 World Cup after his goals had set up an epic quarterfinal drama.

The Netherlands forward's return to major tournament action Sunday was a happy event — again scoring late off the bench and this time decisively in a 2-1 win over Poland to begin a European Championship group that includes title favorite France.

The imposing striker struck with a low left-foot shot in the 83rd minute with his first touch after coming on to replace Memphis Depay, who had missed several shooting chances as the Dutch appeared sure to waste a winning opportunity.

Weghorst might not look the most elegant player, but his reputation for being effective was earned at the World Cup in Qatar 18 months ago.

His two late goals against Argentina — the second from an uber-cute, free-kick routine in the 11th minute of stoppage time — sent a memorable quarterfinal into extra time at 2-2 against the eventual champion.

Weghorst and Messi were among 15 players shown yellow cards by the time it was all over on the field. Then they carried it on deep inside the stadium.

This time, Weghorst's goal was worth a win that puts some pressure on France, which already beat the Dutch twice in qualifying last year and plays Austria on Monday.

“I said it this morning to my girlfriend: ‘Scores level, 0-0, 1-1, 20 minutes to go.’ It was a bit later. But you feel it and visualize it for yourself," Weghorst told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Poland was forced to cope without its injured star Robert Lewandowski but soon found a goal from his replacement who matured in Major League Soccer.

Adam Buksa used all his 1.91 meter (6-foot-3) height — a bit shorter than Weghorst at 1.97 meters — when circled by four Dutch defenders at a 16th-minute corner to guide a header into the net. Buksa had 2 ½ prolific years with New England Revolution until returning in 2022 to join French club Lens.

Cody Gakpo leveled in the 29th with a shot that was deflected and deceived goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. It was fair reward for a vibrant first half for the Dutch who ended the game with 21 attempts on goal.

Gakpo is a fast starter at major tournaments. He scored in all three group-stage games at the World Cup that led the Netherlands to a clash with Argentina. That day in Doha, Weghorst also replaced Depay when he came on in the 78th.

A reliable option for the Dutch, former Manchester United forward Weghorst now has four goals in five national-team games this year and he scored three more in the Euro 2024 qualifying group — compared to the seven goals he scored for his German club Hoffenheim this season.

The Netherlands win was preserved by goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen with key late saves from substitute Karol Świderski and, with the last touch of the game, a long-range shot by Nicola Zalewski.

Lewandowski sat out the game to rest a leg muscle injury and is targeting Poland’s second game, against Austria on Friday.

The Dutch will play France on Friday, also getting a full day’s more rest than its next opponent.

About 50,000 Dutch fans made the short trip to Hamburg and there was a shooting incident involving police before the game in the downtown St. Pauli district near where many had gathered. It did not seem related to the soccer.

Police said they shot and injured a man who was threatening them with an ax and a Molotov cocktail.

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024