Germany strengthened their hold on Group B with a classy 2-1 win over Holland. First-half goals from Mario Gomez were enough to seize control of the game and although Robin van Persie pulled one back for the Dutch it never looked like being enough. Joachim Low’s team are vying with Spain for the favourites tag at Euro 2012 and this display against a much-fancied Holland side will only boost their confidence. We look at some of the issues that came out of events in Kharkiv on Wednesday.
Holland are now on the brink after losing their opening two games and will need to regroup if they are to reach the quarter-finals. They still have the players to do just that but there are issues to address and we discuss some of them here.
The stage was set for the biggest game of the tournament so far, with a fierce rivalry stretching back to the 1974 World Cup final and both teams among the favourites to win the trophy this summer. The hostilities never really materialised and it was a less than classic instalment in the series, with Germany dominant for long periods against a Dutch side that is struggling to live up the hype and now faces early elimination.
Same old Dutch?
With Rafael van der Vaart having earlier in the week questioned Bert van Marwijk’s decision to only use him as a substitute, Holland saw Arjen Robben strop his way off the pitch when being replaced in the second half against Germany. It looks a familiar tale of in-house problems for the Dutch, who as a nation have previous for unravelling when things do not go well on the pitch.
Oranje still in it
It would be easy for Holland to feel so deflated by their two defeats that they fail to stay in the moment. But the reality is that they are still in this tournament. Portugal’s late goal against Denmark means that if Germany beat the Danes in the final group game then a 2-0 win for Van Marwijk’s team against the Portuguese will be enough for them to reach the quarter-finals. Once the dust settles on this latest disappointment, that’s something the Oranje can cling to.
Although both teams were nominally playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the contrast between Holland’s ‘split team’ and the fluidity of Germany was stark. While the Dutch played with two holding-midfielders who contributed little to the attacks, their German equivalent Bastian Schweinsteiger provided the assist for both of Gomez’s first-half goals. A marauding second-half run from centre-back Mats Hummels only served to further accentuate the difference in approach; Totaal Voetbal German style.
PSV left-back Jetro Willems became the youngest man to ever play in a European Championship finals during the game against Denmark on Saturday. It’s been a steep learning curve for the youngster. Nine of the starting line-up from the 2010 World Cup final started against Germany here, while a 10th in the form of Dirk Kuyt came on as a substitute. The only man missing is left-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst who retired after that tournament and for all Willems’ youthful exuberance it seemed to be a lack of understanding on the left side of the Dutch defence that led to both Gomez’s goals.
While England’s players bemoan the heat in Ukraine and coaches of all teams lament the rigours of tournament play, Germany coach Joachim Low can contemplate resting key players for the final game against Denmark. A point for Germany in that match would be enough to ensure they top the group and Low must be tempted to unleash some of his hungry squad players on the Danes. Ordinarily, rotation would represent a risk but the likes of Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Miroslav Klose may show just why this Germany side are many people’s tip to win this competition.
Too little, too late
Van Persie had a bad day at the office against Denmark and it was a similar story of frustration in the first half in Kharkiv, as he missed a number of opportunities that he would normally gobble up in an Arsenal shirt. Having seen Cristiano Ronaldo struggle for Portugal in the earlier game, it looked like this was another big star who was flattering to deceive. After failing to make an impact with his trusty left foot, Van Persie did eventually offer a reminder of his quality with a fine right-footed finish, but it was not enough to save Holland.
Goals all round
Van Persie’s strike may have been irrelevant to Dutch hopes of getting a point from this game but it did bring an end to one unwelcome statistic that few would have expected of Van Marwijk’s team. Holland had been the only one of the 16 teams in the tournament yet to score a goal. It’s a fact indicative of the Dutch struggles but also a credit to a surprisingly open European Championship.