A match that Holland needed to win in order to keep chances of qualifying to the knock-out stages of Euro 2012 in their own hands, ended in a bitter defeat. Germany had the better of the game, except maybe in the closing stages when Van Marwijk made some changes and Holland bravely, but desperately, chased an equalizer. In the end, Germany thoroughly deserved the victory, based on their tactical superiority and several key German players outperforming their Dutch counterparts.
The starting line-ups
A lot of speculation went on in the build-up to this game and most of it concerned whether Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should start ahead of Robin van Persie and whether Van der Vaart should be accommodated as deep-lying playmaker in favour of either Van Bommel or De Jong.
However, Van Marwijk opted for the same starting eleven that played against Denmark, with the exception of Joris Mathijsen who returned from injury at centre-back, at the expense of Ron Vlaar.
Germany manager Joachim Löw fielded the expected starting eleven.
The first half
The game started out at a slow pace with both teams happy to take some time to settle in. In most matches, either one or both of the teams look to take advantage of open play turnovers to launch quick breaks, but this match was different early on. Both teams set out rather patiently, mainly aiming not to lose possession in dangerous areas, and knowing that not conceding might be the main objective early on.
But after this quiet opening phase, some interesting aspects could be seen. Holland had created a few chances when Van Persie used his excellent of the ball skills to get in behind the German defensive line, but he failed to convert his early opportunities. Germany soon adapted by dropping their defensive line a bit deeper, thereby opening up more space in midfield, which soon worked to their advantage.
Germany smartly used Mesut Özil’s lateral movement to unsettle the Dutch defense and take advantage of the large spaces in midfield with both teams’ defensive lines wary of conceding too much space in behind them.
As can be seen from the diagram below, Özil received passes both at the right and left offensive midfield area, indicating his smart lateral movement. Particularly on their right wing, Germany created numerous offensive moves, with Thomas Müller clearly dominating the struggling left-back Jetro Willems.
With Özil moving laterally, a choice had to be made in the Dutch defensive midfield zone. Nigel de Jong mostly covered Özil in his lateral runs, but this left Van Bommel on his own to cover the ground in front of the Dutch defense, where he was overloaded by Khedira and Schweinsteiger.
The same diagram shows that Wesley Sneijder operated in his beloved left wing area, but his activity in this match was concentrated here even more than it was before. This is not to state Sneijder had a weak game, not at all, but the defensive part of his job as a central offensive midfielder was an area that Germany smartly exploited.
With Sneijder mainly staying high up the pitch and the Dutch defensive line wary of not conceding space in behind them, the ‘broken team’ problem appeared. The distances between the offensive four and the defensive six were way too large for Van Bommel to be covered, even more so with De Jong being dragged aside by Özil.
An area where Holland normally dominates their opponents are the wings. And both of them failed to perform here. Ibrahim Afellay had an anonymous game and failed to contribute. On the other wing, much of the credit should go to Philipp Lahm, who defended very well against his team mate Arjen Robben. Lahm, a right-footed defender who fills in at left-back for his country had the advantage of protecting against Robben’s inside runs with his stronger foot and prevented Robben from making his usual threatening runs. Germany’s excellent defensive performance also stood clear from the tackling chart (below), and from the fact that the Germans won 65% of the duels, a record high rate at European Championships since 1980.
Another reason for the disappointing wing performance was the complete lack of offensive contribution of the full-backs. Jetro Willems had his hands more than full defending Thomas Müller and Gregory van der Wiel failed to overlap and lend support to Robben.
The main man for Germany was Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder smartly advanced in central midfield and teaming up with Sami Khedira, he overloaded Van Bommel on occasions that Özil had already dislodged De Jong sideways. This 3v2 battle in midfield proved crucial to created the two goal scoring chances that striker Gomez showed his clinical finishing skills on.
The second half
The second half started with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front, Robin van Persie in behind him, coming mainly from a left wing role with the invisible Afellay removed, and with Rafael van der Vaart introduced for Mark van Bommel. The Dutch captain was the scapegoat for the disastrous first half, both in terms of tactical developments and in terms of players underperforming. After an initial ten minutes where Germanycould and perhaps should have taken advantage of a few good opportunities, Hollandslowly fought their way back into the match.
Around the hour mark, Van Marwijk opted to switch Van Persie and Sneijder, much like he did in the closing stages of the Denmark game. For Sneijder, who already operated in that zone, not all too much changed, but Van Persie seemed liberated in his role as a second striker, sometimes joining up high with Huntelaar, sometimes dropping deeper to escape the attention of the German centre-backs. Another notable advantage of this change was that without a nominal wide left winger, it was easier to pose threats to the German defense. Before, the German defense was sure to outnumber the Dutch centrally, with Sneijder and Afellay by and large working in the same part of the pitch. But Van Persie’s vertical movement from a deeper lying striker position posed more problems for the German defense and more options for Sneijder’s passing from a static lateral position.
The improvement brought about by this chances was evident in the Dutch goal, where an Van Persie once again showed his excellent skills in creating, and this time also finishing, his own goal scoring chance.
Overall it didn’t prove enough for the win and in fact the best chances in the second half fell to the Germans with goal keeper Stekelenburg proving his worth on attempts by Özil and Badstuber.
In the end
In a match where both the tactical performance and the individual player performances were below-par, Holland didn’t deserve anything more than this defeat. Germany smartly exploited the distance between the Dutch front four and the defensive unit and two well-timed runs from deep by Schweinsteiger were enough for the win.
Let’s not forget that Holland are not eliminated yet, a two goal win over Portugal might still do the trick if Germany beats Denmark in their final game.