After their dominant away ’tiki taka style’ victory only a few days ago, Holland manager Van Marwijk will not have felt the slightest incentive to change his line-up either in terms of tactics or his choice of a starting eleven. And with all players fully fit he wasn’t forced into any changes either. This allowed the unique situation of two consecutive matches started by 11 players all playing for different clubs.
How different were things at Hungary? No less than five changes were made, with Liptak, Elek, Varga, Koman and goalkeeper Kiraly all left out. Perhaps even more significantly, manager Egervári decided to trade his 4-2-3-1 for a classic defensive 4-4-2. This pushed Gera to the right wing position and allowed Priskin to join Rudolf up front. Both central midfielders were changed as now Pinter and Vadocz, a substitute in the past match, are fielded. Finally, Vanczar moved from right-back to the right central defense position, allowing Lazar back in at right-back.
A different game
In the first half, in terms of entertainment value, the difference with the away game was huge. Hungary’s switch to a flat defensive 4-4-2 formation ensured a tight midfield game with Holland dominating possession, but ‘Oranje’ rarely found a way through the dense and packed midfield.
Hungary learnt from their recent encounter with Holland and aimed their strategy at limiting space in midfield. In order to obtain that, they kept their two backs of four tight together and both wide midfielders focused primarily on their defensive tasks, either guarding Holland’s full-backs, who played much less of an offensive role now, or doubling up on the wings against Afellay and Kuijt.
The theoretical advantage of Holland’s 4-2-3-1 over Hungary’s 4-4-2 would be the potential of outnumbering of the midfield in a 3v2 situation. While this was indeed true on the pitch, the Hungarian tight banks of four limited space effectively and it was much more difficult for the likes of Van der Vaart and Sneijder to find enough space for their killing through-balls.
In a sense, Holland contributed to this situation too. Just like in the away game, where it proved very effective given the vast amount of space conceded by Hungary in midfield, Afellay played an inside left winger role with loads of positional freedom, drifting across the pitch. On top of that, Van Persie deployed his favorite false-nine role, regularly appearing on the right side of the central midfield area. The presence of both Afellay and Van Persie in addition to the nominal midfielders crowded space even further as they generally drew their man-markers with them.
An early goal
Keeping two tight banks of four is one thing, not giving any space away is quite another. On either side of the two banks, be it deep in Holland’s midfield or behind Hungary’s defensive line, lay Holland’s opportunities. Van der Vaart and Sneijder regularly switched positions and both of them frequently dropped deep, even to the level of the central defenders. This allowed them to break free of Hungary’s dense midfield zone and they generally looked to take advantage of the space conceded behind their opponent’s defensive line. A number of through-balls were the result, and despite Van Persie and Kuijt being called offside a number of times, some chances resulted too.
But it was a set piece goal that opened up the game. Robin van Persie fired in a right sided corner by Wesley Sneijder after the ball bounced up in front of him at the far post.
After this 13th minute goal, Hungary did advance their stance, inducing a fair share of pressure in the process. The result was Holland’s midfield retreating even further and the process game plan of midfielders Sneijder and Van der Vaart looking for direct balls in behind Hungary’s defense was even more clear to see.
Second half goal bonanza
A true goal fest may be the best description of the second half, although Dutch fans would have liked this term to be used in a different context. Only five minutes into the second half Holland saw itself facing a 1-2 score line after conceding twice due to sloppy defending, allowing unpressured crosses into the box. First from a left sided short corner variant and later from a left sided cross which was nicely volleyed in by Hungary captain Zoltan Gera.
By then, Holland had traded injured striker Robin van Persie for cult-hero Ruud van Nistelrooy and Hungary replaced left central midfielder Pinter for the more offensive Vladimir Koman.
Facing this surprise score line, Van Marwijk was forced to show his in-game management skills in order to prevent Holland’s first ever European qualification home loss. He instructed both full-back to make frequent runs from deep, effectively changing to wing-backs here. The fact that Urby Emanuelson had to replaced the injured Erik Pieters only helped the offensive wing-back game.
A lucky combination where Wesley Sneijder effectively combined in a one-two pass with a Hungarian defender ensured the equalizing goal. And quickly hereafter Ibrahim Afellay’s work rate was expressed when he won the ball at the left-back position and dribbled past two defenders to pass to Dirk Kuijt. The Liverpool player crossed for veteran striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to make it 3-2. And with that goal, Van Nistelrooy equaled legendary striker of the ‘fifties’ Faas Wilkes’ total of 35 goals.
But the advantage was short-lived as another episode of untidy marking laid the base for Hungary’s third goal of the game. Emanuelson completely lost track of Zoltan Gera and the Hungary captain fired in his second goal to make it 3-3.
In the end, two goals by Dirk Kuijt won the game for Holland and the game finished with the unusual score line of 5-3.
In the end
Two matches by the same Dutch national team, yet two entirely different games. After the dominant tiki taka performance in Budapest most Dutch fans were expecting a similar football show in Amsterdam, but Hungary’s switch to a defensive 4-4-2 proved very effective in limiting the danger that arose from Holland’s deep passing midfielders in the first game.
At the very least these two games must be considered as an excellent demonstration of the power of tactics in a football match. The very different approach taken by Hungary in both matches led to two very different matches and the lack of defensive sharpness at the start of the second half allowed them a way back into the match that they firmly grabbed. In the end, an unusual score line of 5-3 was the result of an end-to-end second half where Holland was close to breaking their impressive record of not losing any point in four years of European Championship and World Cup qualification football.