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Soccer-Gakpo seeks to fill Depay’s shoes as Dutch top striker

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Cody Gakpo is keenly looking forward to playing at centre forward for the Netherlands in this week’s Nations League finals after being thrust into the position over the last months at Liverpool, and with Dutch first choice Memphis Depay ruled out.

Gakpo, 24, built his reputation as a left winger at PSV Eindhoven but was switched to striker after moving to Liverpool in January.

“Now that I’m playing at Liverpool I think it’s a nice position,” he told reporters on Sunday as the Netherlands prepared for the four-nation tournament. They face Croatia in Rotterdam on Wednesday in the first semi-final.

With Depay sidelined through injury, Gakpo is expected to lead the line for the hosts.

“I have become convinced that being a striker suits me,” said Gakpo, adding that several coaches had previously tried to convince him to make the switch but he had resisted.

“Guus Hiddink was the first. He spent a while at PSV as a sounding board, saw me play and said: ‘You have to become a striker or a false No. 9’. I didn’t want to believe it then. And then when Roger Schmidt said the same thing later at PSV when he was coach, I was even more stubborn. It felt good on the left flank.

“But at the last World Cup I was already more central on the field and at Liverpool permanently in the past six months. It’s been good. I’m excited now to get better in the position in the near future, for the club as well as the national team.”

Jurgen Klopp’s decision to shift Gakpo was initially met with criticism from Dutch pundits, who felt the Liverpool manager would not be able to get the best out of him.

“It was a difficult period when I first arrived,” Gakpo recalled. Liverpool were struggling with in a dip in form and his introduction to the team did not go as smoothly as hoped.

Klopp then called him in a for pep talk. “He said what he wanted from me. In the beginning, of course, it took some getting used to, but I’ve enjoyed playing in that position in recent months.”

Depay has a calf injury and Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said on Saturday his absence offered “opportunity to see other guys at work.”

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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