Netherlands v Germany: Oranje feeling the squeeze

The Netherlands dare not lose to their old rivals Germany tonight but are torn again by infighting, selection disputes and pressure from home

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The Independent Football

You can gauge something of the German mentality by the question put to Mario Gomez. Would it not be better, the striker was asked, to keep the Netherlands in the competition. Then they could make the semi-final and would be far more exhausting opponents for the team that would face the Germans in the final.

Germany have a reputation as the ultimate tournament team; sticking rigidly to "Der Plan" but this was surely a refinement too far, like Dick Dastardly racing ahead and then trying to make his victory certain by blowing up the rest of the Wacky Racers with consequences that were all too predictable. No, said Gomez, we should knock them out now.

Some 375 miles south of the German base camp by the Baltic, the mood was very different. Since the European Championship took on its modern format only once have the Dutch failed to qualify from the group stages. That was in 1980, when drawn in the same group as the Germans, they lost 3-2 in Naples to a side that went on to win the competition.

"We have to win, there is no other way round it," said the Dutch captain, Mark van Bommel. "For this golden generation, the European Championship represents their last chance to come away with a trophy. It is vital they understand that."

They understand it all too well. For Arjen Robben, who missed penalties in both the European Cup final and Bayern Munich's Bundesliga decider with Borussia Dortmund, this is a season that is unravelling at giddying speed. However, when he remarked that he, like everyone else, knew it was "make or break", he had the advantage of knowing he would be playing.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie are not that certain. The surprise was not that Denmark scored in Kharkiv, it was that Holland failed to. Bert van Marwijk possesses four footballers – Van Persie, Huntelaar, Robben and Luuk de Jong – who between them scored 132 times for their clubs. If nothing else, he possesses firepower.

Logically, and especially in his own eyes, Huntelaar is the man to break down what Rafael van der Vaart thought was an "average German defence". Huntelaar was the Bundesliga's leading scorer, he has found the net 15 times for the Netherlands since the start of their qualification campaign but he began the tournament on the bench, where he spent the World Cup final. When asked whether he would play tonight, Huntelaar replied: "I can't give any more in training."

There are many who would want him to play. As befits the son of Rotterdam artists, Van Persie has been Arsène Wenger's most uncompromising backer against diluting the purity of Arsenal's football. The result has been a beautifully-constructed wilderness entirely free of silverware.

He bore the brunt of the backlash from the defeat by Denmark with Adri van Tiggelen, one of the lesser-known stars of the 1988 side that won the European Championship, saying he was "sick to the back teeth of Van Persie" and it was time to throw in Huntelaar.

The boys of 1988 have a special place in Dutch history. Not only did they win, they overcame the Germans in Germany to do so and, when Ruud Gullit lifted the trophy in Munich, more than half the population of the Netherlands took to the streets.

The opening chapter of Simon Kuper's great work, Football Against the Enemy, sees them on the Leidesplein in Amsterdam tossing bicycles into the air, on the grounds that during the occupation bikes were confiscated by the Germans.

The real enmity between the two nations begins here, rather than in the 1974 World Cup final. Johan Cruyff may have wanted to humiliate the West Germans but he would not have wiped his backside with Franz Beckenbauer's shirt, something that Ronald Koeman did when Olaf Thon offered him his in 1988.

The "hongerwinter" of 1944-45, when most of Holland starved, was as close to the men of 1974 as the Falklands is to us. However, Cruyff's need to humiliate their opponents, which was to prove their downfall, stemmed from German reports that the Dutch players had frolicked with what in tabloid language would be called "scantily-clad lovelies". Cruyff spent the night before the World Cup final on the phone to his wife.

They lost then and 14 years later they won, triggering a mass stampede for the border. Tonight there will be extra security in some places where Germany meets the Netherlands, not least on the anonymous street that divides Dutch Kerkrade from the German town of Herzogenrath.

They may have been the only one of the leading six teams of this tournament to have won, but the German camp, relaxed, confident and welcoming, is not immune to its stresses. Despite the fact that his goal had overcome Portugal, Gomez's own place is not secure. A poll in the German press found a majority wanted the veteran figure of Miroslav Klose to start. He was just about to make his entrance on to the pitch in Lviv when Gomez's header found the net.

Gomez is a curious figure. His miss from a couple of yards against Austria in Euro 2008 and his display in last month's European Cup final have taken some living down, but he has succeeded at Bayern Munich in a fashion that Lukas Podolski never did.

"I am not going to change now," he said, recalling a meeting with one of his most persistent critics, the former Bayern midfielder, Mehmet Scholl. "He said, 'You must think I am a complete bastard but the only reason I have a go at you is that you never fulfil your potential'," Gomez laughed.

Scholl is now a coach at Bayern and the conversation took place at the club's officially sanctioned visit to the Oktoberfest. The thought that Manchester United or Chelsea would ever let Wayne Rooney or John Terry loose at a beer festival lingered in the air.

Dutch v Deutsch

1974 World Cup final

The Dutch led through an early penalty before West Germany gained a soft equaliser from the spot. Gerd Müller scored the winner before half-time.

1980 European Championship

Bernd Schuster scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 West German win but left the pitch with a black eye after clashing with Rane van de Kerkhof. German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher was involved in a brawl with PSV Eindhoven midfielder Huub Stevens.

1988 European Championship

The Netherlands gained revenge, winning a semi-final meeting 2-1 en route to claiming the trophy.

1990 World Cup round of 16

In an ugly encounter, Frank Rijkaard spat at West Germany's Rudi Völler after being booked for a bad tackle. Völler received a yellow for reacting before both were sent off for squaring up once more. The Germans won 2-1.

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