It was 2.45 a.m. Having had to stay up to work on some leftover stuff, I got to bed at approximately 12 a.m. midnight. (I had already decided not to watch the Czech Rep – Latvia match, since unfortunately living in this time zone means one match per morning for me.)
I had set the alarm for 2.45 a.m. because I’d learned by now that when the TV schedules say the match is to be telecast at 2.30 a.m., they include the now predictable, mindless, 15-minute banter between the studio pundits. Now, let me say I’m a fan of Shebby, but he’s at his element in a less formal, unscripted setting like in the ESPN-Star studios. Here, for TV3, he seems restrained although I still think his observations tend to be more accurate than the others in the studio who seem to merely parrot opinions found in newspapers, sports magazines and other sources.
OK, the game itself. Like most people, I’d expected the Dutch to win this game handily, given Germany’s really awful performances in friendlies coming into this tourney. (Of course, the Dutch had some wobbly games too, but Germany lost 5-1 to Romania – who didn’t even qualify for Euro 2004.)
For the first 15 minutes or so, the game was tight, little was given away by both sides, tackles were flying. However, both goalkeepers had little to do, although Holland had an early near-chance involving Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The Germans though, were not looking like a team ready to roll over and play dead. They defended stoutly, and their passing and movement was direct and accurate. It seemed a matter of time before they would breach the Dutch defence.
When they did, the attacks came in waves like London buses. A Christian Worns’ header gathered by van der Sar, Kuranyi’s long-range shot tipped over the bar, Worns again coming close to connecting with a cross. Holland’s defenders – with the exception of Stam who was doing reasonably well in dealing with Kuranyi – were obvously very uncomfortable dealing with balls crossed into the box. A goal was definitely in the making.
Cocu then made a silly tackle on the left wing. Frings took the free-kick and swung it straight into the goal off the far post, leaving the Germans celebrating and van der Sar screaming at his defenders for not providing him with better protection.
The one thing that the Germans are famed for is their discipline. The one thing the Dutch are famed for is their lack of it. There didn’t seemed to be any harmony in the team’s passing, and there was also a distinct lack of communication between the players. One glaring instance of this was when Davids had the ball at his feet, and while looking for a pass, had the ball stolen by a German player. Davids could then be seen briefly chastising his teammates for not warning him of the lurking player.
The Germans were on top, and the Dutch had their hands full dealing with the pressure. But they still had talented individuals who could turn a match, and van der Vaart was one of them. Just before halftime, he found some space outside the box and arrowed a shot that just missed the post.
In the second half, Holland manager Advocaat brought on Sneijder and veteran Overmars to add more zip to their wingplay. Overmars took to the job with enthusiasm, constantly running down the flank and forcing Germany into giving away corners.
There were sporadic attacks from both sides now, with the Dutch having notably tightened their defensive and midfield play. Overmars had a stinging shot palmed away by Kahn, and a series of corners forced the Germans onto the backfoot. The addition of Pierre van Hooijdonk as a second striker alongside van Nistelrooy gave the Dutch greater impetus in attack, and eventually the pressure gave dividends.
van der Meyde’s cross from the right 10 minutes from time saw the goal-poacher incarnate van Nistelrooy steal ahead from his marker and, although he was in an awkward position, still manage to hook the ball past a stranded Kahn.
The sea of orange-clad supporters in the Dragon’s Stadium roared, and the Dutch were back in the groove. Nevertheless, both sides ended the last 10-minutes trading jabs without landing a sucker punch. The entire match was played in relatively good-tempered fashion, which was a welcome relief for football supporters after the news earlier in the day of some misbehaving England “supporters”.
All in all, I enjoyed the game. I would have preferred more goals, but the pace of the game and the attack-minded approach employed by both teams was a welcome change from the tactics used by other big names in the competition so far.
Final verdict: Holland 1 – Germany 1
My man of the match: Michael Ballack (he seemed always dangerous with the ball)
Was lack of sleep worth it: Absolutely.
This article is also archived at Cakap-Cakap Bola: A Euro 2004 Weblog