Euro 2012: Netherlands 1-2 Germany
The Netherlands stand on the brink of elimination from Euro 2012 tonight after a defeat to their most bitter rivals. An accomplished Mario Gomez double downed the Dutch amid a shambolic defensive performance, with Robin van Persie’s wonder strike failing to provide the impetus for a famous comeback.
Fixtures between the sides have rarely been dull, with abundant fighting, spitting and belligerence a feature of a long and volatile rivalry. Even if the passage of time has seen mutual animosity diminish from its nadir, there was little need for this fixture to have any extra incendiary ingredients. But with the Netherlands falling unexpectedly to a counter-punching Danish side in the first round of fixtures, they knew that anything other than a win in Kharkiv would leave them vulnerable.
In the event, there was plenty of fight, but an obligingly careless defensive performance contributed to a calamitous night for the Dutch and early profligacy in front of goal would prove costly. Granted, there were fewer clear-cut chances created tonight, but it was nevertheless a surprise when Robin van Persie failed to convert an early golden opportunity. A fine through ball exposed Mats Hummels and found the Arsenal striker haring towards goal with only Manuel Neuer to beat, but his shot was easily kept out.
The Dutch did manage to start with impressive fluency, but their performance would quickly deteriorate. Mezut Ozil provided a scare with his fine strike from the edge of the box hitting the post, but most of the early chances came at the other end. Arjen Robben was quick to respond as he found van Persie, the latter escaping from Badstuber this time, but a more difficult chance on his weaker right foot saw the ball flash wide. There was a welcome urgency about the Netherlands’ approach, and a rapid counter attack then saw Robben feed Ibrahim Afellay deftly, but the Barcelona attacker executed his cross poorly when trying to find van Persie.
But it was Germany who found the opening goal, as Mario Gomez broke the offside trap to control Bastian Schweinsteiger’s pass beautifully, before sliding easily past Maarten Stekelenburg. He had barely featured, but the deadlock was broken. 1-0.
The wind had been taken out of Dutch sails; the tide quickly turned, and Jetro Willems in particular was being repeatedly exposed. After he conceded a free kick close to the corner flag, Badstuber ought to have headed in, but fired straight at Stekelenburg. It was to prove immaterial. Schweinsteiger again found Gomez with ease, and his sublime finish crashed into the Dutch net. Germany led by 2 without breaking stride.
By now the Netherlands were sinking. The Germans had grown into the game and were taking a stranglehold, suffocating their opponents with a higher defensive line and more assured use of the ball. Indeed, only an alert response from Stekelenburg kept the deficit to two as he tipped a deflected free kick over the bar. The half time whistle couldn’t come soon enough- an assertive start from the Dutch had been destroyed by a porous defensive performance. It had been too easy for Germany to find space.
Bert van Marwijk knew his team were on the brink and introduced Van der Vaart and Huntelaar, but it was the Germans who had the first chance of the second half, as Hummels broke through the ever-inviting Dutch defence only to be denied by a double save.
Belatedly, Van Persie was warming up in a deeper role, and his fearsome shot was well turned away by Neuer just before the hour mark. Five minutes later, Wesley Sneijder fired wide from distance as the Dutch started to make an impression. The Oranje were revving up, and Robben glided inside brilliantly to square for Sneijder, but Jerome Boateng’s block was as heroic as it was painful. Finally, however, van Persie delivered with 17 minutes to go. 25 yards from goal, he turned inside on his right foot and blasted past Neuer with aplomb. 2-1 Germany.
The game was becoming more stretched, and Ozil wasted a chance to shoot on the counter attack, his delay allowing Nigel De Jong to slide in. But the Netherlands had rediscovered the sense of assertive urgency they had started with; the goal had injected belief. Van Persie went down in the penalty area but his appeals were unconvincing. Germany were not content to merely contain however, and maintained a threat on the counter attack as the game moved into its final 10 minutes.
As Arjen Robben stomped off, dissatisfied that Dirk Kuyt was being thrown on in his place as a final throw of the dice, the Dutch continued to press. By now however ,Germany were managing to keep their neighbours at arm’s length, and Van der Vaart flashed his shot unthreateningly wide as the clock ticked down. It would be the last threat posed by the Dutch, as they were left to rue an ill-disciplined and careless defensive performance.
Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems, Nigel De Jong, Van Bommel (Van der Vaart 46’), Robben (Kuyt 83’), Sneijder, Afellay (Huntelaar 46’), van Persie. Unused Subs: Vorm, Bouma, Kuyt, Vlaar, Schaars, Strootman, Luuk De Jong, Narsingh, Boulahrouz, Krul.
Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Muller (Bender 92’), Ozil (Kroos 81’), Podolski, Gomez (Klose 72’). Unused Subs: Wiese, Gundogan, Schmelzer, Howedes, Schurrle, Mertesacker, Gotze, Reus, Zieler.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)