In the aftermath of their opening game defeat to a smash-and-grab Danish goal, the Dutch complained in rather bad grace that the implausible result had been a “miracle”. There was nothing miraculous about Germany’s dismissal of the Dutch last night, however, achieved with the extremely predictable combination of clinical finishing and dogged perserverance, despite the sweltering evening heat.
The match between the traditional rivals had promised to be the tie of the group stages. A win for the Netherlands would have left the “Group of Death” exquisitely set up for the final round of matches with all four teams on three points, while the Germans knew that victory would mean that their qualification was all but ensured. In the end, a pair of inch-perfect finishes from Mario Gomez decided a game that was absorbing without ever being thrilling, and the result underlines German credentials as contenders for the tournament as much as it undermines similar Dutch aspirations. An irate Bert van Marwijk complained after the whistle that his team were “not strong or courageous enough”, while Joachim Löw said his side had “opened the gates to the quarter-finals”.
There was an atmosphere of expectation in the ground prior to kick off between the traditional rivals, with thousands of German and Dutch fans making the trip to eastern Ukraine. There were none of the empty seats that were visible at England’s game with France, with a whole stand of the Metalist Stadium an unbroken sea of oranje. By half time, though, the swathes of orange that had been undulating so boisterously at the start were looking on in grim silence, listening to the chants of “Auf Wiedersehn” from their rivals.
The Dutch had the better of the opening exchanges, with Robin van Persie twice put through on goal after balls that split the German defence, but the Arsenal forward first only managed a tame shot on the stretch; on the second occasion his attempt strayed wide.
Save for a snap volley from Mesut Ozil, the Germans had little to offer in the first 20 minutes. Midway through the half, however, they opened the scoring with a well-worked goal. Bastian Schweinsteiger was given too much space by the Dutch on the outside of the box, and was able to play a perfect pass through to split the defence and put Mario Gomez through, who turned smartly and slotted the ball home for his second goal of the tournament. The Bayern Munich pair combined again a quarter of an hour later, with Schweinsteiger rolling another pass through to Gomez who this time unleashed a precision shot across Maarten Stekelenburg and into the far corner of the goal. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has visited the German training ground and offered his consolations to Schweinsteiger over the penalty he missed for Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, said Löw after the game, adding that the performance tonight should reassure those who doubted the player’s psychological state after losing out on the trophy.
The Netherlands had precious little to offer in response to the Gomez double, and it could have been even worse for them at half time, with Holger Badstuber heading straight at Stekelenburg from point blank range. The Dutch looked wilted by the heat and deflated by the scoreline, and in an effort to breathe some life into the team, Van Marwijk brought on Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at the interval, at least one of whom the Dutch media thought should have started alongside van Persie up front. It was still Germany who looked the more threatening, however, with Mats Hummels marauding into the Dutch box on a run that inexplicably went unchecked but that he could not quite finish off.
As Gomez was replaced by Miroslav Klose with less than 20 minutes to go, even the Dutch-language stadium announcer sounded resigned to defeat. But just seconds later, Van Persie had pulled one back, cutting in from the wing and unleashing a vicious, swerving shot that flew into the net.
The Dutch never really looked like equalising, though, and the Germans closed out the game without too many nervous moments. For the Netherlands, progression in the tournament hangs by the thinnest of threads – they need Germany to do them a favour by beating Denmark in the final game. More pertinently, they will need to find their own form to defeat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal by at least two goals.
Man of the match Gomez.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee J Eriksson (Swe).
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