Netherlands were threatening to self-implode before they had even kicked a ball against Germany. If their much publicised lack of confident fans wasn’t enough, the dreaded “vote of confidence” for Bert van Marwijk definitely was. That wasn’t all either. Wesley Sneijder revealed there was rifts in the camp, too: “”We have to stop living on little islands. We must all go for the same goal, be united or face the consequences.” In hinting a divide was forming, it only added fuel to the speculation that Dutch trio Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart were unhappy not to be starting, “”It is time we let these pathetic egos go,” Sneijder continued, “If somebody is creating a mess, I will stand up against them now.”
The game started well for both sides: neither were looking particularly shaky at the back, arguably both their weakest areas, and both would be happy with their opening ten minutes. Yet the first real chance of the game fell to Robin van Persie and true to his Euro 2012 form the Arsenal striker who had enjoyed such a stellar season choked in the box. Typical of several Arsenal goals this season, Joris Mathijsen played the Alex Song role playing a long ball forward and as the ball dropped over the shoulder of Mats Hummels Robin van Persie directed it goalbound on the fall. However, the end result wasn’t the desired one and Manuel Neuer collected the ball with ease.
Germany, with all their efficiency, were not going to be as wasteful. Bastian Schweinsteiger played a succulent through ball into the box and spinning 360 degrees with the ball at his let foot Mario Gomez rolled the ball onto his right and slotted it into the bottom left-hand corner to send the Germans into the lead. It was a goal of sheer quality. The man who has had questions asked over his ability to replace Miroslav Klose has now got 2 goals in 2 at Euro 2012.
One man far from making a good impression, though, was Jetro Willems, who at the beginning of the season was only 17 and looked every part a boy among men tonight, against a team with its lowest average age since the 1930s. Thomas Muller, who was only 20 at South Africa in which he was part of the Germany team that made the semi-final, was enjoying the space Willems carelessly left in that corner of the field and an early cross threatened to double Germany’s lead almost instantly. The next time Muller came down the right flank Willems brought him down and conceded a free-kick. His positioning had gone from bad to worse.
Before his goal Gomez had barely seen any of the action; yet, since his involvement, he’d become the focal point of every German move that looked threatening. With Schweinsteiger continuing to control the tempo in the heart of midfield, safe in the knowledge that Sami Khedira was marshaling the middle of the pitch, his link-up play with Ozil was only getting better. Then, with 38 minutes gone, the Bayern midfielder found himself in that familiar position 20-yards out and with the ball at his feet. Slotting in Gomez, who had steamrollered past Willems, Schweinsteiger found himself with his second assist of the game as Gomez’ first time strike found the opposite corner of the goal, leaving Stekelenburg flapping. The Dutch were 2 down and looked worse for wear.
There was clear disruption on the pitch, the panning camera showed there was equal disdain off of it, but most worryingly there was no attempt at cohesion either. Netherlands’ tournament was disappearing from their grasp less than 135 minutes after it had started. Furthermore, in that 135 minutes, 45 minutes more than half the teams in the tournament, the Dutch still hadn’t scored. They were the only team not to have. On the contrast, Germany’s scorer, Gomez, now has 14 goals in 16 games. Heir apparent? Yes.
The second half started much in the way the first half had run its course: Robben was the one with the ability to create, but was also the one with his own interests seemingly at heart. Time after time the drill was the same. For Germany, if it hadn’t already been predictable through the virtue of seven of his club teammates playing for Germany it had done so through countless repetitions in this game alone. He’d receive the ball on the wing, attempt to do his man, Lahm, and if he did he’d cut in and shoot and if he didn’t he’d stand and look on. There was nothing coming down the centre for Netherlands, but the minute it did they looked threatening. Robben committed his first unselfish act of the game, passing across the box to Robin van Persie, and the #16 sent a rasping left-footed drive towards the bottom corner, which Neuer saved agilely. The BBC pundits declared that Arsenal’s strikers were not having a successful tournament, going to show that Nicklas Bendtner was their “forgotten man.”
Meanwhile, things continued to come much more naturally for Germany. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger were the dominant triumvirate in the middle of the park. Ozil was confident in control of the ball, Khedira was authoritative in organising the team’s direction and Schweinsteiger was defining in his dictation of the game. The team efficiency was starting to rub off on the Dutch.
Robben received the ball again on the right and instead of running through his normal routine the Bayern winger cut in and looked up. With numerous options flooding forward the former Madrid player found another ex-Galactico and Sneijder struck it first time. But, with the ball destined for the top corner, Boateng flung himself into the path of the ball and successfully blocked the goal-bound shot. Their best play had been their most unselfish play and only a German substitute, Klose on for Gomez, broke their spell of fluidity. However, after the change, the Dutch continued to look threatening and picking the ball up from the left Robin van Persie broke for goal with the ball at his right foot. Mats Hummels stepped up, van Persie lined up, and a right-footed scorcher flew through the centre-back’s legs, and rippled the back of the net. Netherlands had clawed one back.
There was no particular shift in power and no significant response from the Germans – tactically at least. With Kroos on for Ozil, Germany had ten nervy minutes to play out. They went about it with characteristic German efficiency: slow in possession and hurried off of it. Yet for Netherlands the game ended as it started: with tensions high. Robben was substituted and instead of crossing the pitch, the player criticised earlier this season by Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer for being “selfish,” hurdled the advertising boards and took the long way round, past the cameras and with his shirt in his hands. His replacement was the equally disgruntled Kuyt.
It was Stekelenburg that provided the final moment of Double Dutch, though. With a simple back pass coming his way, the Roma ‘keeper took his time to let the ball roll across him, seemingly unfazed by Klose’s presence, and the consequence was so very nearly embarrassing. Luckily for the stopper, the Lazio striker could only tackle the ball wide.
Germany just need a point to win their group now, against a Danish team that will deny Holland any remaining chance of qualification if they avoid defeat. Portugal just need to match Denmark to qualify.
Man of the Match – Bastian Schweinsteiger