Holland beat Hungary in spectacular fashion to obtain Van Marwijk’s 13th consecutive qualification victory, combining both WC 2010 and Euro 2012 qualifiers. And in the process, national manager Bert van Marwijk extended his unbelievable 90 minutes record in competitive matches to 19-1-0, that one being the World Cup final against Spain.
Holland lined up as expected in the preview of this match, while Hungary did not play right-back Lazar and holding midfielder Vadocz, but fielded Vanczak and Varga instead. In contrast to the preview, Hungary captain Zoltan Gera mostly held the central offensive midfield position with Sampdoria’s Koman lined up on the right wing.
In the Dutch formation Wesley Sneijder played his favorite role, expressing a high degree of positional freedom, which frequently saw him drift out to the left side of the central axis of the pitch. That high degree of positional freedom did not just apply to Sneijder, but was merely characteristic of the entire offensive four players. Robin van Persie thrived in his preferred false nine role, at times even dropping close to the central backs to receive the ball at feet.
Both flank players also drifted across the pitch, Ibrahim Afellay, who started from the left wing, even more so than Dirk Kuijt, who played more of a classical inside winger role. Afellay literally moved all over the pitch, unsettling Hungary’s defensive system with his frequent lateral runs. His role certainly reminded of the Barcelona system he works with on a daily basis now.
With these dynamic front four keeping Hungary’s back line as well as their holding midfielders busy, Rafael van der Vaart was given loads of freedom in his deep-lying playmaker role. In theory Van der Vaart played in Zoltan Gera’s zone and he was at times pressured by Koman coming inside too, but the combination of his technical and distribution skills with the support lent by Nigel de Jong allowed him a dominant role in the first half hour of the match. He crowned his early dominance by finishing off a ground combination with Wesley Sneijder on the before-mentioned left side of the pitch.
De Jong himself, after coming in for quite some stick due to his World Cup final tackle on Xabi Alonso and his leg-breaking tackle on Ben Arfa, deserved a positive mention for his sober, clean passing game. He held a 100% pass completion figure for quite some time into the first half, contributing to his team’s possession dominance. On top of that, he hasn’t committed a single foul in the past 225 minutes of Euro 2012 qualification football. And this low foul rate applied throughout the Dutch team in this match. With just two fouls in the entire first half, they seldomly allowed their opponents a chance at controlling the pace of the game, an important aspect of the match.
The gap in Hungary’s game plan
To be fair, Hungary’s game plan was quickly undone by conceding the early opening goal. Conceding that much space to Holland’s deep-lying playmaker Van der Vaart proved costly early on and the match was an uphill battle from that moment on. The lack of pressure on Van der Vaart, who operated from a significantly deeper position than he is used to at club level, arose from the fact that Hungary allowed their defensive six (the back four and two holding midfielders) to be fully occupied with the excellent dynamism of Holland’s front four. This left just Gera to apply pressure on both Van der Vaart and De Jong which did not allow Hungary to counter Holland’s play in a very significant area.
On top of that, there is a remarkable gap in player quality between Hungary’s front four and the defensive six. Dszudszak is one of the stars of the Eredivisie and will make the step up to one of the big leagues soon, striker Rudolf and right winger Koman regularly feature in the Serie A and offensive midfielder Zoltan Gera brings loads of Premier League experience. In contrast, most of the defensive six play either in the Hungarian competition, or in less respectable leagues in Europe.
A rally just before half time
The final five minutes of the first half where in fact the only spell of counter play by the Hungarians. They significantly shifted their deep defensive line forward and succeeded to gain the upper hand in terms of positioning for a short spell. But they quickly paid the price for the advanced defensive line as they still were unable to keep enough pressure on Holland’s superior midfield passers. A moment of quick and direct passing played offensive right-back Gregory van der Wiel free behind the Hungarian defensive line and his cross was sublimely controlled by Afellay’s right foot before the Barcelona player fired in with his left. With a 0-2 score line at half time, the match was effectively over.
Second half changes
Playing in front of their own fans, Hungary desperately tried to take the game to their opponents at the beginning of the second half. They maintained the high defensive line, despite being punished just before half time and regularly shifted Dsuzdszak over to the right wing. Not only would this allow Dszudszak to try his skills against team mate Erik Pieters, but it should have led to a better control over offensive right-back Van der Wiel, who had an excellent game in a very offensive right wing role, regularly filling the space left by Kuijt tracking inside and reminding of his self-expressed example in football: Barcelona’s Dani Alves.
Two more goals
Unable to exert enough pressure on Holland’s midfield, with Van der Vaart still taking deep positions and Sneijder simple adjusting his position slightly deeper too, it was a matter of time before chances would start flowing. And they did.
Two unselfish lay-offs, first by Van Persie and later by Van der Wiel for his second assist of the game, allowed Kuijt and later Van Persie to score the third and fourth goal. Close to the end of the game, Hungary did test goalkeeper Michel Vorm with some long range shots, but the Utrecht goalkeeper showed to deserve his clean sheet.
In the end
A football match does not need any form of tension to be attractive, that’s what has been proven here. Playing a highly dynamic, high paced passing game, Holland kept Hungary’s defensive six busy with just four offensive players and the passing skills and creativity of Van der Vaart contributed to a dominant first half performance.
Playing around the increased second half pressure in order to take advantage of the advanced defensive line proved the key to a controlled second half too, which was crowned with Van Persie scoring his first goal in six international matches and Van der Wiel crowning an excellent offensive right-wingback game with his second assist.