Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the saviour for Holland, earning a point for the Dutch against Germany after they had trailed for much of the game to a Torsten Frings goal.
The 1-1 scoreline was a fair reflection of a game which never really took off with Holland in particular struggling to impose themselves upon an obdurate German team. With both teams having to face the Czech Republic, the possibility that one of them will not reach the knock out stages, is very real.
The first half-chance of the match fell on two minutes when Cocu floated a delicate chip over the German defence just inches beyond the outstretched boot of Van Nistelrooy, who had escaped the attentions of his marker.
Thereafter Holland settled into their passing rhythm without ever really threatening to open up a well-organised German defence. Van Nistelrooy, playing in isolated advanced position was in theory supported by Van der Vaart and Van der Meyde, but delivery from midfield was poor and the trio never combined to any great effect.
For Rudi Voller’s team, containment was the name of the game with only Ballack detailed to support the lone striker Kuranyi.
As the half progressed Germany gained in confidence, and Ballack and Hamman began to exert a measure of control over the midfield. Kuranyi produced a long range effort which forced Van der Saar to make a save but otherwise the game was mainly played in the congested central area.
On 31 minutes, Germany managed to secure a breakthrough. Cocu needlessly brought down Frings near the left-hand touchline. The situation looked unthreatening but the Borussia Dortmund midfielder’s free-kick was wonderfully placed and his effort flashed across the face of the goal and beyond the outstretched arms of Van der Saar.
The Dutch were shell-shocked. Germany, lifted by their unexpected goal, looked the more positive team as half-time approached.
Van der Vaart, who had barely touched the ball until this point, had Holland’s best chance of the half on 42 minutes, but his well-struck effort flew inches past the post.
Dutch coach Dick Advocaat introduced Wesley Schneider and Marc Overmars for Edgar Davids and Boudewijn Zenden respectively, as he sought to break Germany’s control of the midfield.
Overmars in particular, looked lively down the left, but his pace was rarely matched by an end product and as the game progressed Holland looked to be running out of ideas.
Advocaat’s last throw of the dice was to introduce the height of Van Hooijdonk. In doing so, the Dutch were abandoning any pretence of sophistication in favour of a route one approach. It was a gamble which paid off. The substitute provided a physical presence in Germany’s penalty area and it was his battling qualities which indirectly led to Holland’s equaliser.
A hopeful cross was launched into the German area and as Van Hooijdonk tussled for the ball it fell to Van der Meyde whose near post cross was adeptly converted by Van Nistelrooy.
Both teams pushed on for a winner although the momentum was with the Dutch who forced a succession of corners in the closing minutes. Germany held firm and it would have been harsh on them, given their contribution to the match, had they conceded another.
So, relief for Holland but on this showing they look some way short of being considered potential winners. Moreover, Advocaat is going to have to find a settle team sooner rather than later if their Euro 2004 adventure is not to end prematurely.
For Germany, one thing is clear: they may not win any awards for the quality of their football but they remain fiercely competitive opponents.
Germany 1-1 Holland
– Germany – Torsten Frings 31
– Holland – Ruud van Nistelrooy 81
Germany:1-Oliver Kahn (captain); 3-Arne Friedrich, 4-Christian Woerns, 5-Jens Nowotny, 21-Philipp Lahm; 19-Bernd Schneider (7-Bastian Schweinsteiger 68), 6-Frank Baumann, 8-Dietmar Hamann, 13-Michael Ballack, 22-Torsten Frings (18-Fabian Ernst 79); 10-Kevin Kuranyi (9-Fredi Bobic 85).
Holland:1-Edwin van der Sar; 18-Johnny Heitinga (17-Pierre van Hooijdonk 74), 4-Wilfred Bouma, 3-Jaap Stam, 5-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 8-Edgar Davids (14-Wesley Sneijder 46), 6-Philip Cocu (captain), 11-Rafael van der Vaart, 22-Boudewijn Zenden (16-Marc Overmars 46); 7-Andy van der Meyde, 10-Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)