The American city of Memphis is known as the ‘Birthplace of Rock and Roll’. It therefore comes as no surprise that someone bearing that name would boast a perfect sense of timing.
Pacey Dutch winger Memphis Depay proved that theory beyond a doubt versus Australia at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre on Wednesday. Having come on as a substitute at the end of the first half, he played a key role in the Netherlands’ hard-fought 3-2 comeback, setting up a goal and scoring the winner.
“Who wouldn’t dream of that scenario?” the sprightly wide man said to FIFA.com after the match. “Every footballer fantasises about playing and scoring in the World Cup. But like every fantasy, you never know if or when it’ll ever come true. And it’s even nicer when it takes you by surprise.”
What developed into a pleasant surprise for Depay began with a tricky setback for the Oranje, who were forced to change their plans and introduce the confident 20-year-old following an injury to Bruno Martins Indi.
With Australia holding their own against the talented Dutch side and its 3-5-2 at that stage, Louis van Gaal threw the PSV Eindhoven star onto the left wing, moving to a four-man defence in the process. “I was really very sad to see Bruno leave the pitch on a stretcher. We’re not yet sure of the details of his injury, and I hope it’s not too serious,” he said.
Upon hearing that the Feyenoord defender would only be sidelined for a few days, he smiled with relief. “We’re hoping that he gets back on his feet quickly, and even though nobody wants to go on under those circumstances, it gave me a chance to show what I could do,” he added.
Learning from the best
Despite his tender age, he was able to demonstrate his full array of attributes during the second period, including impressive speed, excellent close control, passing ability and an eye for goal, a skillset he has improved while rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s elite performers.
“When you’re surrounded by guys like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, there’s no better way to make progress as a footballer,” said Depay, who was also eligible to represent Ghana, his father’s country of birth.
“You just have to look at what they do in training: the effort they put into each shot, each pass, each interchange. Robben’s speed and Van Persie’s ball control are brilliant examples to emulate.”
Conversely, it is likely that his mentors were showering Depay with post-match praise after he helped his team-mates to extricate themselves from a sticky situation against the Socceroos, first by playing in Van Persie, who duly made it 2-2, and then by firing home a powerful long-range strike ten minutes later.
“It was an important goal, and a good one too. But I’ve scored better," he joked. “But scoring in the World Cup is twice as nice.”
Another pleasant surprise for Depay was hearing that he is now the youngest ever Dutch goalscorer in the history of the tournament, surpassing the previous record set by Boudewijn Zenden at France 1998.
“It’s obviously a huge source of pride to follow in the footsteps of former Dutch goalscorers. An assist, a goal and a new record; I couldn’t really have dreamed of a better World Cup debut,” he said.
The immediate future looks extremely bright for the Netherlands. With six points from two matches, not only have they secured a last-16 berth, but they are also boosted by the knowledge that, if the going gets tough, Depay is capable of stepping up to the mark.