It will never get old. Every time the Nationalmannschaft gets one over these guys, I feel far better than if we had beaten Spain, Italy or even the Three Lions. It was close in the end and perhaps should have been wrapped up by half-time, but a win is a win is a win. Cue the puns involving squeezed, juiced or pulped oranges.
An hour or so earlier Portugal had denied a brave Denmark side with a last-gasp winner, bringing themselves back into the equation and ensuring that the Dutch would still be in the tournament regardless of the result against Germany. With the Mannschaft, Denmark and Portugal all on three points, the worst case scenario of a Dutch victory would have blown the group wide open – thankfully Mario Gómez ensured that this didn’t happen.
Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw would stick with exactly the same eleven that had started against the Portuguese, sticking with Gómez up front and perhaps more controversially with Lukas Podolski out on the left wing. No injuries, no problems – unlike the Dutch where once again there would be rumours of an impending revolt against coach Bert van Marwijk.
The two teams emerge in front of a noisy crowd of just under forty-thousand in Kharkov’s Metalist Stadium. In the stands the atmosphere is electric and in the air it is sticky and humid, with temperatures hovering around thirty degrees Celsius. Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson leads the teams out, with Germany in their smart black and white ensemble and the Dutch in yet another eye-bleeding all-orange outfit. Given the sultry atmosphere, it’s looking a little like Guantánamo out there.
1 min. The Dutch get things underway in Kharkiv.
2 mins. Bert van Marwijk’s side have started brightly, and have already put together a few neat passing moves. Germany have not had a touch in anger yet.
4 mins. Germany now get a bit of the ball, and play some keep-ball of their own. It’s slightly a cagey start – no surprise given how much is at stake for both teams.
6 mins. Joris Mathijsen sends a long ball forward for the Oranje, finding Robin van Persie as Mats Hummels appears to be daydreaming. The Arsenal man had been guilty of missing a number of gilt-edged chances against Denmark, and continues where he left off as it passes the ball safely back to Manuel Neuer. Hummels had also started slowly against Portugal, and this serves as something of a wake-up call: that was very close to being a disaster.
8 mins. Germany win a throw out on the right, and some tidy build-up play ends up with Mesut Özil firing in a snapsnot that is luckily collected by Maarten Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal. It actually turns out to be a lot closer than that when we finally get to see the replay, which shows the ball pinging off the base of the post before being clutched by the ‘keeper.
10 mins. After the careful opening things are now moving from end to end as the game finally starts to live up to some of the pre-match predictions and expectations.
11 mins. Lukas Podolski needlessly loses the ball out on the left, and the Dutch counter-attack quickly. Arjen Robben’s nicely-timed pass finds van Persie out on the right, who tussels with Holger Badstuber before sliding a shot low and wide of the target.
13 mins. Özil is in the middle of another crisp build-up again with Thomas Müller and is beaten to the ball as he tries to work his way into the Dutch penalty area. There’s a slight case for obstruction, but the Swedish referee waves play on.
15 mins. With a quarter of an hour gone this game is looking good for a goal, but the Dutch have made the slightly better start.
16 mins. A long ball finds van Persie out on the left; there’s suspicion of both offside and a handball but the Oranje win a corner, which comes to nothing.
18 mins. More nice build-up and no cigar for the Mannschaft as Podolski gets into that all-too-familiar rhythm of brainlessly hitting anything at the first opportunity, and sets things up nice for a fast break down the left by the Dutch. The cross inside by Ibrahim Afellay is cut out by the fast-retreating Badstuber.
20 mins. FC Bayern München team-mates Badstuber and Robben in a clash of heads, and the Dutch winger goes off for a little treatment. It’s gone a little quiet now as the ball is spending a lot of time in the middle of the pitch.
23 mins. A truly magical Mario Gómez moment. There’s more careful build-up as Müller makes his way deep into the Dutch half down the right, before finding Bastian Schweinsteiger to his inside left. Schweinsteiger looks up briefly before sliding a glorious first-time ball into the box to Gómez, who is the smoothest I have ever seen him as he takes the ball smartly and turns like a ballerina before stroking the ball with his right foot past Stekelenburg into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. OK, a 6′ 3″ ballerina. With no tutu. It’s a truly glorious goal, and 1-0 to the Mannschaft.
Germany take the lead as Mario Gómez confidently sweeps the ball into the net with style and panache
26 mins. Robben pulls a typically audacious left-foot special out of nowhere from distance, but Neuer makes his catch look easy.
28 mins. It’s Robben again, as he is caught offside down the right as he collects a pass from skipper and former FC Bayern München team mate Mark van Bommel.
30 mins. It’s patient build-up time now, as the Mannschaft can afford to relax a little to take a breather in the energy-sapping heat.
32 mins. The deceptively languid Müller eases behind seventeen year-old Dutch left-back Jetro Willems and makes his way towards the byline, but his cross is too strong and too far in front of Gómez. Poor old young Willems. Müller is making his life a nightmare at the moment.
37 mins. The Mannschaft win a free-kick out on the left, which is beautifully curled in by Özil. The Dutch defence are completely AWOL as Badstuber steals in to head the ball at the Dutch goal from point-blank range, only to find Stekelenburg rather than the back of the net. A foot either way and it would have been two!
38 mins. No need to fret. It’s the Müller-Schweinsteiger-Gómez show again, as Schweinsteiger calmly rolls the ball into space down the right to Gómez, who once again takes the ball perfectly before belting it across Stekelenburg and into the top-left inside netting. One might argue that the Dutch ‘keeper should have done better, but nobody in the German crowd is concerned about that. Two goals for Super Mario, and 2-0 to Germany.
41 mins. A Dutch move breaks down and Germany break up the field quickly, with Özil orchestrating proceedings. He finds Jérôme Boateng to his left, and the full-back’s long-range Hollywood attempt is sent spinning high and wide to the right of the Dutch goal.
44 mins. The Mannschaft are rolling it around now, clearly looking forward to a relaxed half-time break. Müller almost makes his way past the woeful Willems for the umpteenth time.
45+1 mins. Mark van Bommel is finally called for a foul as he bundles Podolski over. Schweinsteiger sends in the free-lick which is deflected by Robben, forcing Stekelenburg into a fine reflex save. It’s the last action of the half as the referee blows his whistle to signal the end of what has been a stunning first forty-five minutes.
What a stunning half. Two fantastic goals, an early shot off the post from Özil and a point-blank header from Badstuber that on any other day might have ended up in the back of the net. 2-0, but it so easily could be three or four already. OK, so van Persie should have scored long before that for the Dutch, but let’s not concern ourselves with such trifles.
Gómez gets ahead of Jetro Willems to shoot from the tightest of angles, and the Mannschaft are two up
The Dutch started well enough, but after a bright opening would soon be swamped by a white and black storm. The two Gómez strikes almost defied belief – he has clearly been practising his first touch – but Bastian Schweinsteiger has been absolutely fantastic in his role as creator and provider.
Changes for the Dutch at the start of the second half, with van Bommel and Ibrahim Afellay giving way to Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. With the Hunter’s arrival, the top two Bundesliga scorers are out on the field.
46 mins. Germany are immediately on the attack and win a free-kick out on the left. Schweinsteiger sends it into the box but it is put over for a corner. The corner comes to nothing and Huntelaar breaks, but Özil shows great desire to chase down the Hunter and win the ball back. The Hunter has become, erm, the hunted.
48 mins. Another nice build-up from the men in white, and Özil is bundled over by John Heitinga just outside the penalty area. No free-kick though as the referee waves play on.
52 mins. A relaxing interlude, and out of nowhere Hummels is somehow allowed to run straight down the middle as the orange shirts appear to retreat in fear. The full-back scuffs his shot straight at Stekelenburg, and gets a second bite which is well stopped by the Dutch ‘keeper who pushes the ball around his right post for a corner.
54 mins. The Mannschaft are truly bossing this show now. They are also chasing every ball and the Dutch are getting increasingly desperate. The desire being shown here is truly encouraging – they really look as they want another couple of goals.
56 mins. Robben has a shot from out on the right which is deflected for a corner – which comes to nothing.
58 mins. The Dutch finally pull their finger out of the dyke and up the pace. van Persie finally gets a shot on target, but Neuer is more than equal to it as he dives smartly to his right to make an excellent one-handed save.
59 mins. Germany are being allowed to pass the ball around by the Dutch, and it looks as though it will just be a matter of time until they find their way through the Dutch defence for a third time.
62 mins. Özil looking brilliant again as he combines with Sami Khedira and Müller to try and fashion an opening.
64 mins. The silky smooth Özil almost floats from his own half deep into the Dutch side of the find, finding Müller who wins a corner. Germany’s set-piece play has been the poorest aspect of their game however, as Özil’s effort floats harmlessly over the Dutch box and is cleared away to safety.
66 mins. The Dutch are getting some possession in the German half now, but are unable to put any move of substance together.
69 mins. Some clever movement down the left by Wesley Sneijder finds Robben free in the German box, but the Bayern man’s shot is weak and finds its way into the bucket-like hands of Neuer.
70 mins. Having been anonymous for most of the second half, Gómez finds some space down the right before sending his shot across the face of the Dutch goal and wide. It was a difficult chance, and the striker had to go for the shot with nobody following up.
71 mins. Robben works his way down the right before cutting inside and
sending another long-distance effort into Row Z finding Sneijder who switches back inside from the left. Sneijder’s stinging right-footed effort is bravely blocked by the flying Boateng.
72 mins. Gómez won’t be able to emulate Klaus Allofs’ feat of Euro 1980 as he is replaced by Miroslav Klose. It has been an excellent display by the big man who looks exhausted as he makes his way off the field.
73 mins. The substitute hardly has time to find his feet and the Dutch are suddenly back in it. Inevitably, it’s Robin van Persie who smashes a right-foot shot that has just a little curl on it, taking it away from Neuer and into the bottom right-hand corner. 2-1.
74 mins. van Persie is at it again, and makes his way to the edge of the German box before having the ball pinched away from him by Boateng.
76 mins. Özil is almost through on goal but is well challenged in the area by Nigel de Jong.
77 mins. The Dutch seem to have a new lease of life now, and are starting to challenge for every ball. The referee waves away a penalty claim as van Persie stumbles in the box as Hummels and then Schweinsteiger take the ball away from him.
80 mins. Özil is allowed to run in towards the edge of the penalty area, and sees his shot blocked. De Jong is booked for a sharp challenge on German skipper Philipp Lahm.
81 mins. The tiring Özil is replaced by Toni Kroos, restoring the number of FC Bayern players to seven. It’s a slightly defensive move by the Nationaltrainer as he looks to lock things down and see out the remaining minutes.
83 mins. A slightly dischuffed-looking Robben is replaced by Dirk Kuyt as the Dutch take their final roll of the dice.
85 mins. Van der Vaart has a shot from distance that flies wide of Neuer’s left upright.
87 mins. Boateng gets a silly yellow card for time-wasting at a throw-in, meaning that he is now out of the next game against Denmark.
89 mins. The Mannschaft are keeping the ball in the Dutch half now as they look to see out the match. A dreadful backpass from Mathijsen leave Stekelenburg scrambing desperately as Klose comes bearing in on him. The veteran is unable to hook the ball back as it rolls off for a goal kick.
90 mins. Willems is booked for a swipe at Müller. Four minutes of additional time are signalled.
90+2 mins. Lars Bender will again make a two-minute cameo appearance as he comes on for Müller. The youngster does actually get a touch of the ball as he runs it down towards the right-hand corner flag.
90+4 mins. Bender looks to make his way to the corner flag again, but the Swedish referee finally calls time. It’s six points from six, and the Mannschaft just need a point to make sure of a place in the last eight.
As the two teams made their way off the field, the Germans had one foot in the last eight and the Dutch one clog on the ‘plane back out to Amsterdam. At 2-1 the scoreline was arguably a little flattering to Bert van Marwijk’s side, who were lucky not to have conceded three or four as the Germans at times threatened to take them to the cleaners.
Mario Gómez would answer his critics in grand style, scoring two well-taken goals to take his tally to three and join Russia’s Alan Dzagoev as the tournament’s top scorer. There are still doubts about his involvement in the game – he was largely anonymous in the second half – but these two well-taken strikes should have settled matters, at least for now. If Gómez can score two goals a game and Germany can keep winning matches, I seriously doubt many – including Mehmet Scholl – will be complaining about his link-up play – or lack thereof.
Overall, this would be a far better performance than against Portugal. The defence were again firm with Holger Badstuber as the stand-out for me, while Sami Khedira once again worked his socks off and Bastian Schweinsteiger showed what a valuable team player he is by upping his performance and setting up both goals. Mesut Özil once again showed flashes of his genius, while Thomas Müller was his usual hard-working ans awkward self. Lukas Podolski was again slightly disappointing, though even he turned out a better performance than in the opening match. As for ‘keeper Manuel Neuer, he once again did everything that was asked of him. He pulled off one fine save to deny van Persie, but could do nothing to prevent the Arsenal man’s cleanly-hit strike that brought the Dutch back into the game.
The game left Germany top of the table with six points from their two games, with both Denmark and Portugal on three points – with an identical goal difference – and the Dutch yet to get off the mark and rooted firmly at the bottom. The Mannschaft only now need a draw in their final match against the Danes, which would also be sufficient for the Scandinavians should the Dutch beat Portugal. A win for the Portuguese would send them through if Germany beat or draw with Denmark, while a Portuguese win and a German defeat would bring three sides into an interesting three-way tie on six points with goal difference settling the outcome.
Although yet to get a point on the board, the Netherlands can still make it through: in addition to their beating Portugal, they will have to rely on Germany dispatching the Danes. The combination would leave Germany clear and dry on nine points, with the three other teams all on three points – with goal difference determining the remaining placings and the second quarter-final slot.
So, it’s goodnight from me – and the Dutch points total still looks like a nice big red ball of Edam cheese.
v Netherlands, Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv (First Phase Group B) 13.06.2012
Gómez 24., 38. / van Persie 73.
Germany: Neuer – Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller (90+2. L. Bender), Özil (81. Kroos), Podolski – Gómez (72. Klose)
Netherlands: Stekelenburg – van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems – van Bommel (46. van der Vaart), N. de Jong – Robben (83. Kuyt), Sneijder, Afellay (46. Huntelaar) – van Persie
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Assistants: Stefan Wittberg, Mathias Klasenius (Sweden)
Goal Assistants: Markus Strömbergsson, Stefan Johannesson (Sweden)
Fourth Official: Tom Harald Hagen (Norway)
Yellow Cards: de Jong 80., Willems 90+1. / Boateng 87.
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 9 / 6
Attempts off Target: 3 / 7
Corners: 5 / 6
Fouls Committed: 7 / 11