13 June 2012

Netherlands 1-2 Germany

Gomez 24' 38'
van Persie 73'

Holland's last game against Denmark was arguably an aberration, down solely to poor, unfortunate finishing. The margin of defeat was the same today, but this was domination. Germany destroyed Holland in the first half and sucked the life out of them in the second, despite positive half-time changes from van Marwijk, despite van Persie's consolation which looked like reinvigorating the contest.

Holland had the better start, and looked likely to exorcise the post-Denmark demons almost immediately: a long van Bommel pass over the top, van Persie racing behind a static Hummels and Badstuber, but unable to get clean contact, softly poking straight to Neuer. It was the sort of chance he seized time and time again for Arsenal last season. And it set a poor precedent.

It didn't take long for Germany assert control. Both goals started down Holland's left, manned by an untested 18-year-old backup for his club. Both goals were from Schweinsteiger passes to Gomez, with the former routinely left unforgivably open by van Bommel while de Jong "tracked" Özil.

Both goals were things of beauty: excellent set-up play combined with flawless finishing. Gomez's turn to set up the first, running between the center-backs, will make highlight reels for years. The same player dragged Mathijsen out of position on the second, again played in by Schweinsteiger after Özil's lay-off, blasting past Stekelenburg, who arguably helped the finish by diving too early and too low. Van Bommel was so off the pace he was barely in the stadium, completely unable to keep up with Schweinsteiger; Germany won the midfield battle despite both sides deploying similar 4-2-3-1 formations because Germany dominated possession but Sneijder failed to track back to add support. Which, admittedly, isn't his job. You can't deploy two out-and-out defensive midfielders then have one go missing.

Van Marwijk made the necessary changes at half-time – as if he had a choice – removing the vastly terrible van Bommel and wholly ineffective Afellay, replaced with van der Vaart and Huntelaar, shifting to something like a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1. Unsurprisingly, this increased Holland's cohesion in attack while subtracting little from defense (as if it could get worse).

Robben, van Persie, and Sneijder (twice) had excellent chances – the latter's the best: one curler just wide from far out, one outstandingly, incredibly blocked by Boateng. Less than two minutes after Boateng's crucial block came van Persie, finally getting Holland off the mark in the Euros – the last team to score in this tournament. Sneijder passed inside from the left flank, van Persie spun the otherwise-excellent Hummels and raced towards goal, firing an unstoppable shot through the legs of Badstuber past Neuer from the top of the box. Amusingly, the goal came just seconds after Gomez was withdrawn in favor of Klose, protected with an obvious eye on Sunday's final group match as Germany sensed little danger. Game on.

Or not. Germany didn't just take the air out of the ball after Holland's goal, they stabbed the ball, burnt its remains, and made sure there were no others on premises. The Netherlands barely had sight of said ball, let alone Neuer's goal, not even after introducing Big Game Dirk Kuyt. So much for fairy tales. Sorry, Dirk.

Holland took exactly one shot after van Persie looked like making a game of it. Meanwhile, Germany won three free kicks, five corners, monopolized possession, and nearly added a third when Klose chased down Steklenburg in the goalmouth, only to see the ball trickle just wide of the post.

Toni Kroos had an awful lot to do with Germany's late ball retention, completing 16 of 17 passes in the 10 minutes he was on the pitch, more than 25% of the passes Germany attempted during that period.

Strangely, Germany – with six points from six – aren't assured of qualification, while Holland – with zero points from six – aren't eliminated. A Germany loss to Denmark coupled with a Portugal win against Holland could see the Portuguese and Danes through. A German win and a Dutch win could see Holland qualify if they make up a -2 goal difference. Given how enjoyably crazy this tournament has been, neither is totally out of question.

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