The Netherlands will have to bounce back against bitter rivals Germany on Wednesday to keep their Euro 2012 hopes alive.
Grudge matches don’t come much bigger than this with their Group B clash holding added significance after the Netherlands’ shock opening 1-0 loss to Denmark. Dutch fans will tell you they can handle a loss, just not to Germany.
That opening result was not part of coach Bert van Marwijk’s plans meaning the Oranje will have to pick up the pieces and defeat either or both of Germany and Portugal, to progress to the next phase.
Both are in the world’s top four and qualified for the tournament with exceptional verve and ease but it is the unwavering Germans that have the early advantage in the group after their 1-0 win over Portugal.
Van Marwijk’s main point of contention will be whether he bows to popular belief and plays Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front rather than the wasteful Robin van Persie.
The Arsenal captain had been in such scintillating form this season he could not stop scoring, but against Denmark he looked distinctly out of touch and spurned a number of openings to the disbelief of the Dutch fans.
That the debate over who should start is even a consideration is staggering given van Persie’s feats at Arsenal over the past two seasons, yet Huntelaar’s scoring record in the Bundesliga and at international level has been scarily good also.
Whoever van Marwijk chooses, the attacking intent must remain the same with a record of no draws in their past 38 games a testament to their do-or-die approach.
Defender Joris Mathijsen has returned to full fitness and is expected to return to face Germany in place of Ron Vlaar while Germany’s goal scoring hero Mario Gomez will likely lead the attack again ahead of Miroslav Klose.
Germany’s record of success at major tournaments is formidable and after typically edging Portugal despite not playing at their peak, their progression to the knockout stages again appears a formality.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has a fully fit squad to chose from and his decision to start Gomez rather than Klose, a source of ongoing debate, was validated with the Bayern Munich striker’s 72nd minute winner.
“Honestly I don’t have the energy to worry about what other people are saying. I have a different point of view (on who to play up front) than the media or fans,” Loew said.
Germany defeated the Dutch 3-0 in a friendly in November but Loew said that result would have little bearing ahead of the clash in Kharkiv.
“The game plan for both teams will be pretty clear to the other. We know the Netherlands’ system but they know how Germany play and where the main points are. It will be a very even fight,” he said.
These two are no strangers to one another having met eight times at finals tournaments.
Germany has the slight edge with three wins against two for the Dutch and two draws.
The 1974 World Cup Final was the most significant of the clashes with Germany coming from behind to break Dutch hearts in a 2-1 win.
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