Michalakos on friendlies: A not-so-classic rivalry

November 14, 2012, 11:26 PM

Arriving at their swanky plush Amsterdam hotel in the buildup, Germany’s attitude remained positive before its friendly encounter Wednesday night with eternal football rivals the Netherlands.

Confidence was high despite the absence of six key first-team regulars and the added negative of a previous poor result against Sweden last month.

The 4-4 draw against the Swedes in Berlin was a humbling experience, as the Germans surrendered four unanswered goals in the last half hour at the Olympic Stadium. It was an unimaginable end to a 100 per cent qualifying record that stretched back to the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

The Dutch came into Wednesday’s match having won all four of their World Cup qualifying matches thus far under new manager Louis van Gaal, who took over the job after Bert van Marwijk’s resignation following an embarrassing Euro 2012 campaign.

Germany held the mental edge, having not lost in over a decade to the Dutch, most recently earning a 2-1 decision in the group phase of Euro 2012. You have to go back almost 12 years to produce the Netherlands’ last victory over the Germans on home soil. Considering the history between the two, these matches have been rather one-sided since the turn of the century.

This one was a tough sell to the home crowd, especially after both teams released their starting lineups. Robin van Persie was a late pull-out, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar left on the bench, leaving Dirk Kuyt as captain and leading the line up front. The responsibility of creating chances fell to Ibrahim Afellay and Arjen Robben. Unfortunately the former ended up leaving the game with an apparent injury after an hour played, and the latter was substituted at the half.

Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger were absent for Germany. The list of absentees continued with Marcel Schmelzer, Jereome Boateng and Toni Kroos, though, the Germans’ wealth of depth was ever present in the starting eleven. Manager Joachim Low was still able to call on the quality of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller, while being able to implement a group of rising stars Lewis Holtby and Ilkay Gundogan, who are both trying to force their way into the first team picture.

Emotions were high, but the match itself lacked desire and ended in a stalemate. No Dutch revenge from the summer loss, no German dominance. It wasn’t the least entertaining worst goalless draw, but it was clearly obvious that both sides were holding back.

Netherlands were basically playing a reserve side, tinkering with their offensive and defensive options in an attempt to gauge their overall depth. This was a nothing match, and aside from national pride being at stake, van Gaal seized the opportunity to scout the quality at his disposal when crucial points are on the line. It was a resounding success in that aspect for the Dutch.

Germany was firmly in control for two thirds of the match, but decided not to push past a certain point, eventually making a rash of substitutions in the last 20 minutes, which is the exact time when the hosts looked most dangerous. And if it wasn’t for a great save by Manuel Neuer with 13 minutes to play, newcomer Daryl Janmaat would have netted the potential match winner.

Janmaat was impressive in only his second appearance for the senior side; the 23 year-old defender came on to start the second half, one of three youngsters that deputized at the back, including Stefan de Vrij (20) and Bruno Martins (20). The trio performed admirably and kept an offensive juggernaut at bay, which is no easy task even with the Germans seemingly playing at half-speed for the majority of the second half.

Germany has no excuse for their dismal performance, other than they simply didn’t care to earn a result. The visitors seemed to bask in their superiority, and in boxing terms, just jabbed their way towards a split decision. Quick counter attacks were in abundance in the first half, with Gotze being blocked twice by John Heitinga inside the six yard box to save a potential goal threat.

The defender produced another great save right before the half-time whistle, throwing his body to deny Gundogan the opener. Heitinga should have put on the gloves, because he made more saves than goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, who was largely a spectator and never truly tested.

Despite doing very little to merit a victory, van Gaal should be pleased with his crop of youngsters’ performance against a German side that was definitely playing below their high standards, but always a difficult opponent to keep off the score sheet nonetheless.

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