Wijnaldum double as Dutch complete perfect Euro 2020 group phase
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AMSTERDAM – Georginio Wijnaldum scored twice and hailed his "special connection" with Memphis Depay as the Netherlands completed a perfect group stage at Euro 2020 by comfortably beating North Macedonia 3-0 in Amsterdam on Monday.
The Dutch captain, who signed for Paris Saint-Germain from Liverpool just before the tournament, scored twice in the second half at the Johan Cruyff Arena after Depay had put them ahead.
Depay, fresh from sealing a transfer of his own to Barcelona, could claim assists for both of Wijnaldum's goals as Frank de Boer's side made it nine points out of nine in Group C.
"Memphis and I played together for PSV and have played together for a long time for the national team so we have a special connection," said Wijnaldum, who took his total tally for the tournament to three.
"It's not only Memphis and me. We have other players who can make a difference," he added.
The Netherlands had already secured qualification for the last 16 as group winners after defeating Ukraine and Austria before a home support, and the 1988 European champions knew they were heading for a knockout tie in Budapest next weekend.
"We had some good moments and also some really bad ones but we played better in the second half and we can feel positive," said De Boer as he waits to find out who his team will face next.
North Macedonia were already out after losing their first two games in their debut appearance at a major tournament.
They leave without a point, but they will never forget this campaign and this game will be remembered as the last of 37-year-old striker Goran Pandev's international career after two decades.
He was gifted a Dutch shirt with the number 122 -- the number of caps he has won -- before kick-off, and received a guard of honour from his team-mates and an ovation from the home fans on being replaced midway through the second half.
"He gave us so much. I hope he will be a good example to the next generation," said coach Igor Angelovski, who suggested this was also his last game as his own contract is now up.
"It was a huge pleasure to lead the team in the Euro and to experience this," he said.
North Macedonia couldn't sign off on a high though, with Pandev setting up Aleksandar Trajkovski for a shot off the post when the game was goalless.
They also had two goals disallowed for offside and felt the Netherlands' opener in the 24th minute should not have stood.
Pandev thought he was fouled on the edge of the Dutch box by Daley Blind but the Romanian referee allowed play to go on and the home side broke forward.
Depay exchanged passes with Donyell Malen before finishing, the goal standing after a VAR check.
PSV Eindhoven forward Malen and Ajax midfield prodigy Ryan Gravenberch were given starts by De Boer who stuck with his much criticised 3-5-2 formation before tweaking it in the second half.
Wearing black, the Netherlands had VIP support from Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who watched alongside North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.
And, despite the cold and damp conditions, the evening had the air of a relaxed send-off for the Dutch side, who will not play any more games in Amsterdam -- victory in the last 16 will send them on to a quarter-final in Baku.
After Depay's opener, Denzel Dumfries almost made it 2-0 before they ran away with the game early in the second half.
Depay squared for Wijnaldum to make it 2-0 in the 51st minute and another delightful move brought the third goal just before the hour.
Malen's pass found Depay whose shot was saved by Stole Dimitrievski only for Wijnaldum to convert the follow-up.
Wout Weghorst then hit the bar within moments of appearing off the bench and the Netherlands look in good shape, albeit with tougher tests lying ahead.