This was billed as a prestige friendly to end the calendar year, and seen by some as the third chapter in a three-part series that had started with the Mannschaft’s 3-0 win in Hamburg a year previously. Given the almost incredibly long collection of injuries it would have been too much expect a similarly sparkling performance from Joachim Löw’s side, but nobody expected such a bore-fest.
With both sides going through the motions, the Amsterdam crowd of just over fifty thousand were treated to a match that was arguably the dullest among the forty matches played between the two sides. The second-string German side played the slightly better football and the Dutch came closest to scoring, but apart from that there was little to speak of. It was as if both sides, exhausted after a long year and the trials and tribulations of the Euros, had made a truce just to play out the goalless draw.
In hindsight, the reasons for this negative display would be obvious: under new coach Louis van Gaal the Oranje had started positively after their massive flop in the summer and didn’t want to risk ending the year with a home defeat, while the Germans would simply be looking at showing some solidity at the back after the disastrous 4-4 draw against Sweden the previous month. It would be the perfect set of ingredients for a game that would promise much but fail to deliver as a spectacle.
Facts and Stats
This would be the fortieth meeting between these two old rivals, with the Germans having the upper hand with fifteen wins to their opponents’ ten. The Mannschaft had the better of the more recent encounters, and had not tasted defeat at the hands of the Dutch for just under a decade – a series of four matches since a 3-1 defeat in Gelsenkirchen in November 2002.
Since that match in 2002 the two teams had met at the Euros in Portugal in 2004 with the Oranje grabbing an equaliser at the death in what was a closely-fought 1-1 draw, followed by a 2-2 stalemate the following year in Rotterdam that had seen Michael Ballack and Gerald Asamoah haul the Mannschaft back from a two-goal deficit. Six years later Germany would record their thrilling 3-0 win – the biggest margin between the two sides since their 7-0 pulping of the Oranje in Köln in 1959 – and at Euro 2012 Löw’s side would triumph 2-1 in a match where the scoreline did much to flatter their opponents.
The Team and Tactics
The initial squad that was announced would be a strong one, with a number of players returning from injury. As the match approached however the Kader started dropping like flies, leaving what was effectively a B-team. In addition to the already absent Sami Khedira, Jérôme Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Marcel Schmelzer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil and Miroslav Klose would all drop out, leaving a side that looked decidedly thin.
The fit-again Mats Hummels would join Per Mertesacker in the middle of the four-man defence, with skipper Philipp Lahm at left-back and Schalke 04 skipper Benedikt Höwedes replacing Boateng out on the right – while the defensive midfield partnership would have just thirteen caps between them, with İlkay Gündoğan – making his first start – joining Lars Bender.
The withdrawal of the one out-and-out striker in Klose had led many to believe that the Nationaltrainer might have looked towards Bayer Leverkusen’s in-form Stefan Kießling, but it was clear that the Maharishi Jogi had other ideas. When the starting eleven was named, we would see a three-man midfield of Thomas Müller, Lewis Holtby and Marco Reus, with Mario Götze playing in the more advanced role in the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 system.
With nothing but keeping a clean sheet at stake both sides started off slowly, but with the visitors making the early running. Both Reus and Götze were foiled by Dutch ‘keeper Kenneth Vermeer – I was desperately trying to create some sort of pun involving the Girl with the Pearl Earring, but was failing miserably – before Götze found the side netting. The Mannschaft had probably edged it in the first half, and could very well have taken the lead when Gündoğan – arguably the best player on the field – saw his shot blocked just before the break.
Perhaps the best chance of the half would fall to the home side however, as winger Arjen Robben was able to sneak in behind the German defence only to shoot horribly wide after rounding FC Bayern team mate Neuer.
If the first half offered little in the way of excitement, the second would be a complete disappointment with much of the play taking place in the middle of the field. Only right at the death did anything happen, with Neuer – up to that point a virtual spectator pulling off a spectacular save to deny substitute Daryl Janmaat. Having had next to nothing to do one might not have blamed Neuer for falling asleep – which made his sharp turn around the post even better.
Reus could very easily have snatched the win for Germany what what was effectively the last move of the match, but after finding himself in space out on the right he rather uncharacteristically blasted his shot high over the bar. It was symptomatic of a match where both sides looked as though they didn’t want to find the back of the net.
Conclusions and Ratings
Not much could be gleaned from this match, apart from the fact that Germany were able to keep a clean sheet and save the coach suffering a winter of discontent at the hands of the yellow press. A dull goalless draw may not have been the best sign-off for what was ultimately a disappointing 2012, but it would be better than nothing. The much-maligned defence had provided a shut-out and five games had now been played against the Dutch without defeat.
Given the overall performance, there would be no real stand-out performances, though Neuer once again delivered when called upon and the cultured Gündoğan showed that he could be a genuine option in the defensive midfield. The defensive unit was solid – but then they did have little or nothing do for the entire ninety minutes.
The offensive unit was bereft of ideas bordering on toothless: Müller had a disappointing game, Holtby will never be an Özil and the usually effervescent Reus looked completely off the boil.
With things slowly grinding to a halt in the second half one can only conclude that the coach was happy with how things were going. The first substitution would take place with less then twenty minutes remaining – with the disappointing Götze being replaced by Lukas Podolski – and four players would be on the field for eight minutes or less, among them debutant Roman Neustädter who enjoyed a hardly memorable three minutes on the pitch.
As for playing Götze up front, the less said about that the better. The decision to not even look at Stefan Kießling makes me wonder whether the coach has his eyes on developing a completely new strikerless approach or simply doesn’t favour a man who has scored over twenty goals in domestic competition during 2012. Only the Jogi has the answer, though some are beginning to ask whether really is smarter than the average bear.
Had nothing to do for much of the game, but as usual did what he had to do when called upon. Did enough to put Robben off his stride when the Dutchman had an opening in the first half, and pulled off a stunning diving save to deny the Dutch a latter winner.
Showed some good attacking intent early on, but became less influential as the game ground to a halt in tyhe second half. Wasn’t really tested by a Dutch attack that was clearly lacking in ambition.
A quiet game for the Arsenal centre-back, who did what he had to do well without ever being threatened.
Back in the side after missing the previous two World Cup qualifiers, the Borussia Dortmund man also had a quiet night, and was pretty much anonymous.
A solid if unspectacular display from the skipper, who despite having little to do at the back was not his usual self going forward.
Another solid performance, but yet another case of not being tested. Bender is a definitely option in the defensive midfield, but was unable to make any real case for himself. Replaced by his twin brother Sven with eight minutes remaining – will we ever get to see them on the pitch at the same time?
Probably the best player in a white shirt on what was a quiet evening. Was solid at the back, and offered sparks of creativity to show that he clearly has a future at this level. Came close to opening the scoring right at the end of the first half with a well-struck shot.
An ordinary game from Müller, who was far from his usual energetic self. Was largely anonymous in the second half, and was replaced by André Schürrle with six minutes left.
Brought into the squad as a direct replacement for Mesut Özil, the Schalke man was largely disappointing in his anonymity. Offered little going forward, but was solid enough overall. Did little to enhance his reputation, and is looking destined to be a fringe selection. Replaced by club team mate Roman Neustädter with three minutes left.
Had chances to score both early and late on in the piece, but this was a disappointing performance by his usual high standards. Whether it was the desire to avoid injury or the players around him, Reus was far from his usual dynamic self. Replaced seconds before the final whistle by Julian Draxler.
Selected to start up front in place of the injured Miroslav Klose – or as part of a new mystery flexible front four – the Borussia Dortmund youngster was one of the disappointments of the evening. Looked completely out of place at times, and was not much of a threat. Replaced by Lukas Podolski after seventy-two minutes.
Came on for the disappointing Götze with just under twenty minutes remaining, and fell straight into anonymity.
Replaced brother Lars, and spent a quiet eight minutes on the pitch watching everybody wait for the final whistle.
Introduced with six minutes left in place of Müller. Not enough time for even him to pull off another supersub appearance.
Replaced Schalke 04 team mate Holtby to win his first international cap. Didn’t touch the ball during his three minutes on the pitch.
Came on for Reus just seconds before the final whistle. Notching up international caps will never be easier for the teenager.
Neuer (2), Höwedes (3.5), Mertesacker (4), Hummels (4), Lahm (4), L. Bender (4), Gündogan (2.5), Müller (4.5), Holtby (5), Reus (4), Götze (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Podolski (4.5).
Neuer (3), Höwedes (4), Mertesacker (4), Hummels (4), Lahm (4), L. Bender (4), Gündogan (3), Müller (4), Holtby (4), Reus (4), Götze (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Podolski (4).
Neuer (3), Höwedes (2.5), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (3.5), Lahm (4), L. Bender (4), Gündogan (2.5), Müller (4), Holtby (4.5), Reus (3.5), Götze (3.5).