Estádio do Dragão, Porto, 15.06.2004
Frings 30. / van Nistelrooy 81.
Germany’s opening group match of Euro 2004 pitted them against their old rivals from the Netherlands, the fourth time the two countries would meet in the competition after 1980, 1988 and 1992. The Dutch had had the better of the past matches in having two wins to the Mannschaft’s one, and would be slight favourites coming into this match against Rudi Völler’s developing side.
Having reached the FIFA World Cup Final two years earlier with an ageing and workmanlike squad, the German Nationaltrainer had finally started to infuse the team with new young blood. The opening lineup against the Dutch would contain three players under twenty-six – Arne Friedrich, Philipp Lahm and Kevin Kurányi – while six more including teenagers Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger would be in the twenty-three man squad.
Dick Advocaat’s Dutch side had a similar balance as the Germans in terms of age and experience, and on paper the teams would be very closely matched. Despite the Oranje being slight favourites, Rudi Völler’s side would have been quietly confident of winning their first match Euro finals match since their golden goal victory over the Czech Republic eight years earlier.
Völler’s side would take to the field playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the starting eleven would contain a generous mix of youth and experience. At the back, youngsters Lahm and Friedrich would join old hands Christian Wörns and Jens Nowotny, while in the middle of the field there would be a solid yet creative looking two-line quartet marshalled by Michael Ballack. Then there was the role of the one man up front, which would be filled by the promising twenty-two year old VfB Stuttgart forward Kevin Kurányi as both Miroslav Klose and Fredi Bobić found themselves on the bench.
This would be the final match of the opening round of group phase matches, on the day when UEFA would be marking its fiftieth anniversary. The German supporters would be heavily outnumbered amongst the crowd of fifty-thousand crowd in the Estádio do Dragão, with the stands being bathed in a sea of lurid, eye-bleeding orange. When the Nationalhymne started to play, the chorus of boos and whistles would start up with a depressing inevitability.
On what was a warm Tuesday evening, Swedish referee Anders Frisk would get things underway with both sides playing in their traditional and familiar colours.
Rudi Völler’s side would start confidently enough, but defensive frailties would be exposed with less then two minutes on the clock as a Philip Coco ball over the heads of the centre-backs almost found Ruud van Nistelrooy in space. The opening ten minutes would see the Germans attempt to establish themselves and try to control the tempo of the game, but the Dutch would look more dangerous on the break.
In the twelfth minute the ball would be swung into the Dutch box towards Kurányi, but the best the Stuttgart striker could offer was a riduculous waft at the ball with his arm, which rightfully earned him a booking from Mr. Frisk.
Both the heat and the importance of the match would see things slow down a little, but a decent five-minute spell just after the twenty-minute mark would see the Mannschaft create good opportunities to break the deadlock. Full-back Christian Wörns would warm the hands of Dutch ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar, and then a well-struck Kurányi effort would see the Dutch ‘keeper do even better as he tipped the ball behind for a corner. The resulting Eckball from Bernd Schneider should really have produced the first goal, as Wörns failed to make a decent connection with the goal at his mercy.
Wörns would again have half a chance as a Torsten Frings free-kick was swung into the box from out on the left touchline, and the German pressure would see the Dutch receive their first booking of the game as Cocu lunged in on Philipp Lahm on the half-hour mark.
Frings would again line up the kick, and his right-footed effort would swing in wickedly. Schneider would go up for the header and van der Sar, probably expecting someone to get on the end of it, was far too late as the ball slipped past him and rolled into the right-hand side of the net. There had been no deflection, and Frings celebrated his fourth international goal as the Mannschaft took a deserved lead. It would be the first time that the Mannschaft would take the lead in a Euro finals match since scoring the Golden Goal at Wembley in 1996.
Torsten Frings has the ball in the back of the net, and Germany are in front in a Euro finals match for the first time since 1996
Rather than rest on their lead the Germans side looked to up the pressure, and the Oranje were looking decidedly shaky. The dangerous Van Nistelrooy was being excellently marshalled by young right-back Arne Friedrich, the impressive Frings and Michael Ballack was bossing things in midfield, and the busy Kurányi was keeping the Dutch defenders on their toes.
Four minutes before half-time Rafael van der Vaart would have a shot that fizzed past Oliver Kahn’s left post, but when the whistle blew Völler’s side would be well worth their lead.
Germany’s dominance would see the Dutch coach Dick Advocaat make two changes: the disappointing Edgar Davids would be replaced by youngster Wesley Sneijder, and left-side midfielder Boudewijn Zenden would make way for Marc Overmars.
The Mannschaft started the second half as confidently as they had finished the first, and Frank Baumann could have done better as another dangerous Schneider corner was swung high into the opposition box. The Dutch defenders were now being forced into mistakes, as first Giovanni van Bronckhorst almost let in Michael Ballack before Schneider found plenty of free space on the right to send in a teasing cross that narrowly evaded the diving Kurányi.
The hour mark would pass with the Germans still well on top, but for all their dominance they could not score than second goal that would almost certainly have killed the Dutch off. As the match entered its final quarter things would slow down slightly, and Schneider would be replaced by youngster Bastian Schweinsteiger as Völler made his first change.
There would be another half-chance as yet another Frings free-kick would almost find Kurányi at the far post, with the Stuttgart man being felled as the boot of defender Jaap Stam was dangerously high. Substitute Schweinsteiger was immediately in on the act with a jinking run down the right that was deflected for a corner. A buccaneering Ballack run was ended by Stam who was shown the yellow card, and Dietmar Hamann’s free-kick flew wide of the target: still that second goal wouldn’t come.
With just over fifteen minutes remaining the Dutch knew that they had to change their tactics. Advocaat would show his intent by throwing on another attacker in the form of Pierre van Hooijdonk in place of defender John Heitinga, and his team produced their first real threat of the half when Overmars forced Kahn into an excellent save.
The impressive Frings would make way for Werder Bremen defensive midfielder Fabian Ernst with just over ten minutes left on the clock, as Völler looked to tighten things up and secure the three points.
The substitutes would have an influence on the game almost immediately. After van Hooijdonk did well to win the ball out on the right, Ernst failed to clear the danger before being dispossessed by Andy van der Meyde. A perfect cross flashed across, and there at the near post van Nistelrooy, who muscled in front of Wörns before hooking the ball past the helpless Kahn.
Out of nowhere, the Dutch had levelled the scores. Out of nowhere, a player who had done almost nothing for more than eighty minutes had found himself in the right place at the right time. It was the footballing equivalent of a mugging.
Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates his smash and grab with just nine minutes remaining
As the match entered the last five minutes the Dutch would noticeably shift up a gear, with the Germans suddenly looking rattled at the back. Kahn would beat away a Cocu effort, and van Hooijdonk would cause plenty of trouble in the German box as the Dutch racked up corner after corner.
Rudi Völler would replace Kurányi with Fredi Bobić has he attempted to have one more throw of the dice, and Schweinsteiger would continue to show plenty of energy as he sent a long-range effort narrowly wide. The youngster would moments later set up Ballack whose shot was deflected over the bar, but the resulting corner flew long, allowing the Swedish referee to bring things to a close.
Ballack had been booked in what would be a frenetic final ten minutes, and once again many German fans would have felt robbed once again by their arch-rivals. The Dutch had been poor for the first eighty minutes and really should have been put out of their misery, but once they had pounced on what was really a half-chance to equalise it is fair to say that many German fans would have been aching for the final whistle.
Before the match had started a draw would have been seen as more than satisfactory, but as the team marched off the pitch there was clearly a feeling that two points had been thrown away.
There would be little time to mull over things: next up would be the group’s minnows and first-time finalists Latvia, a game where the Mannschaft would be expected to walk away with the three points.
Germany: Kahn (c) – Friedrich, Wörns, Nowotny, Lahm – Baumann, Hamann – Schneider (68. Schweinsteiger), Ballack, Frings (79. Ernst) – Kurányi (85. Bobić)
Netherlands: van der Sar – Heitinga (74. van Hooijdonk), Stam, Bouma, van Bronckhorst – Cocu, Davids (46. Sneijder) – van der Meyde, van der Vaart, Zenden (46. Overmars) – van Nistelrooy
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)
Assistants: Kenneth Petersson (Sweden), Peter Ekström (Sweden)
Fourth Official: Valentin Ivanov (Russian Federation)
Yellow Cards: Kurányi, Ballack / Cocu, Stam
Red Cards: – / –