Van Nistelrooy's volley deflates Germany

Germany 1 Netherlands 1
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The Independent Online

In the home of the European club champions, two past winners of the continent's premier international prize slugged out a draw which left honour satisfied in their opening Group D fixture. Torsten Frings gave Germany a merited lead on the half-hour, only for the Netherlands to salvage a point through Ruud van Nistelrooy's brilliantly-executed volley nine minutes from time.

In the home of the European club champions, two past winners of the continent's premier international prize slugged out a draw which left honour satisfied in their opening Group D fixture. Torsten Frings gave Germany a merited lead on the half-hour, only for the Netherlands to salvage a point through Ruud van Nistelrooy's brilliantly-executed volley nine minutes from time.

The Netherlands' recent poor run looked set to continue at the hands of the neighbours they love to beat above all others until the introduction of first Marc Overmars and then Pierre van Hooijdonk gave them belated impetus. The sight of high balls being pumped in towards the towering Van Hooijdonk was a reminder that the age of "total football" has passed, at least temporarily, yet it was the Germans who appeared more deflated at the end.

Little wonder. Van Nistelrooy's goal was as expertly taken as Frings' opener had been fortuitous. Andy van der Meyde crossed to the near post, where the Manchester United striker insinuated himself in front of Christian Worns and somehow directed the ball back over his shoulder into the far corner of Oliver Kahn's net.

Van Nistelrooy claimed that the Netherlands had deserved their draw. "We tried to make a game of it for 90 minutes," he said. "You know when you're playing Germany that it's going to be tough, but we kept battling and our support got us through. When you're trying to come from behind, you're not going to create a lot of chances. But we stuck at it and in the end the goal came. Defeat would have been disastrous, but we finished on a high. Now there will be more hope in the camp."

The Dutch have always liked to characterise their meetings with Germany as a collision of utopian and utilitarian football values. The culture clash was never that clearly defined last night, when Michael Ballack was comfortably the most accomplished performer and Germany the more cohesive unit until Dick Advocaat juggled his resources.

Germany then paid a heavy price for what was almost their only mistake. Certainly, their display recalled their trophy-laden days rather more than the Netherlands' showing evoked memories of Cruyff, Neeskens, Gullit and Van Basten.

Yet Advocaat's team had begun with a verve they would be unable to sustain. Phillip Cocu's through-pass picked out Van Nistelrooy, who had broken beyond the defence and had only to touch the ball from six yards out to beat Kahn. Stretching, he failed to connect.

The significance of the miss grew as Germany, with a packed midfield at the heart of their game plan, began to take control. With the Dutch wingers hugging the touchlines and Rafael van der Vaart struggling to make an impression in the "hole", Advocaat was in danger of being tactically out-witted by his close friend Rudi Völler.

However, when Germany went ahead, it was with a freakish goal. Cocu fouled Philipp Lahm, the young left-back who has been outstanding at Stuttgart while on loan from Bayern Munich. From near the German dugout, Frings curled the ball into the six-yard box, where Edwin van der Sar was either unsighted or distracted by players jockeying for position. The ball crept in at the far post.

The Dutch rallied as half-time approached. Van der Vaart had their fans leaping from their seats as he spun on to a ball worked in from the right, only for his shot to flash wide.

An equaliser would have been harsh on Germany at that stage. The more composed side, they had created two openings even before the breakthrough. Worns, stealing up from the back at a set-piece, forced a sprawling save from Van der Sar, and then met a corner by Bernd Schneider with a header that thudded into turf and over the bar.

Ballack, filling a similar role to Van der Vaart, albeit with greater cunning, chased down Giovanni van Bronckhorst as he shaped to pass back to Van der Sar. Van Bronckhorst was sufficiently disconcerted to mis-kick, giving Ballack a sniff of a goal, but he recovered to find his keeper.

Kevin Kuranyi, Germany's Brazil-born striker, received strong support from the Bayern prodigy Bastian Schweinsteiger, who did enough in a cameo role to suggest he will prove a handful as well as a mouthful.

The irony was that Kuranyi was often more effective than Van Nistelrooy, who was too often isolated until Van Hooijdonk came on. The former Celtic and Nottingham Forest forward's impact was proof that, while Patrick Kluivert may be incompatible with the Old Trafford talisman, the long ball and old-fashioned aerial strength can still unsettle defenders at the highest level.

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