With a 3-2 victory over a Dutch side that was unbeaten in competitive 90 minutes matches since 2007, Sweden managed to qualify directly for Euro 2010, claiming the best record of second placed teams. It wasn’t even a bad game from the Dutch side, but three goals were conceded rather cheaply from set piece related chances and despite initially coming back after the opening goal, Holland suffered an unnecessary defeat.
Van Marwijk opted for the same starting eleven that had defeated Moldova 1-0 just a few days earlier. Despite that unconvincing score line, the 24 goal scoring chances created tell the more justified optimistic story, with a particularly impressive first half, and a rather disappointing fade in the second half of that match.
Sweden’s different game plan
Manager Hamren adjusted his game plan for this match, knowing that his team’s optimistic high line was quickly punished by Huntelaar’s false nine activity in the first group match between these teams. Sweden conceded two early goals in similar fashion, where Dutch players were played in behind their high defensive line after striker Huntelaar had dislodged one of the central defenders from the back line.
This time around, Hamren had his back line apply zonal marking, rather than following the central striker upon his backward wanderings into the advanced midfield area. This did allow Holland a numerical advantage in midfield, but at least it allowed the back four to remain intact and they dealt much better with the Dutch offensive threats.
The first half
Holland dominated the first half, albeit more in irrelevant terms like time of possession of the ball and number of passes connected, rather than in terms of goal scoring chances created. In line with this, the first half finished with a level score line, 1-1. Sweden got their goal by directly converting a cheaply conceded free kick outside the box, when inexperienced defender Bruma tugged the shirt of striker Elmander, who already found himself isolated and rather far from goal.
Facing a goal down only for the fifth time in Van Marwijk’s reign, Holland continued like they did before. Huntelaar’s false nine role, as described above, provided the extra man in midfield, where Holland’s three man midfield already did a good job against Sweden’s flat four man midfield. In response to the ‘two central Swedish midfielders versus three central Dutch midfielders’ problem, both Sweden’s wide midfielders played rather narrow. This, in turn, liberated space for both Dutch full-backs, and Pieters and Van der Wiel could be seen in offensive action with a high number of early crosses swung into the box.
One of these early crosses found Huntelaar’s head for the equalizer, a goal that crowned a beautifully timed high pace run into the box, after the striker initially played a role building up the same attack around the midway line.
Van der Vaart’s role in this game also deserves a mention. Against Moldova he suffered in the offensive midfield role, being unable to receive as many passes at feet as he would have desired. This time, he tried to solve this problem by dropping a bit deeper from the crowded zone right in front of the Swedish back line. This also allowed Huntelaar a tad more space for his false nine activities.
The second half
Based upon the first half balance, and the come-back goal before half time, a Dutch victory was more on the cards than the eventual loss that followed in the end. And things did look brightly when another excellent display of Huntelaar’s movement unlocked the Swedish left-back zone. A subsequent chip by Van der Vaart found Van Persie, whose effort was blocked, upon which Kuyt scored from the rebound.
Two Swedish goals in a few minutes time then turned the game around before the hour mark. First Sebastian Larsson converted a penalty, after Mathijsen was unlucky to block a cross with a raised hand while sliding to block that same cross. And a few minutes later, Toivonen fired home a rebound from the edge of the area after Johan Elmander, not renowned for his pace, had beaten Mathijsen in a run out wide after a quickly taken throw in.
In the remaining half hour, Sweden, knowing that a successful defense of this lead would see them through to the Euro 2012 main tournament, gave their all and held onto the narrow lead. Van Marwijk initially made a one-for-one substitution, introducing Elia for Kuyt and later on brough an extra striker with Luuk de Jong for Kevin Strootman. But Holland didn’t find a way through the Swedish defense.
In the end
Despite dominating in terms of possession (73%), Van Marwijk’s team only just created more chances than the Swedes did. Holland managed eight shots on target from eleven attempt, while Sweden managed five from nine attempts. And in a low scoring game like football is you’re likely to lose a game every once in a while with these kind of numbers.
The goals Holland conceded were rather cheap, and provided a display of the relative weaknesses of this team. Young Jeffrey Bruma, playing in the absence of Heitinga, conceded a foul too many and Joris Mathijsen was unlucky for the second goal and beaten on pace for the third one. Up until the third Swedish goal, Vorm hadn’t made a single save and he was forced into only two more for the remainder of the match. In that regard, the Dutch defense performance wasn’t all that bad.
In offensive terms I think it’s safe to say that Wesley Sneijder’s long range passing and long range goal scoring threat was dearly missed in both the Sweden and Moldova game. Against Moldova, Van der Vaart struggled to receive enough passes at feet, while against Sweden he solved this by dropping a bit deeper, thereby involuntarily reducing the amount of offensive threat posed. A positive note with regard to work rate was Huntelaar’s excellent false nine role, but when the opponent consequently sticks to a zonal marking back line, this concept loses a lot of effectiveness. Keeping the striker up front and pushing Van der Vaart more forward may have posed more problems for the Swedish back line.
Match stats provided by Infostrada Sports