If you want to know what it feels like to have two birthdays so close together, you could ask the Queen. Or, come to think of it, Bert van Marwijk. Two ridiculously fortunate Dutch goals appeared to gift Holland the win, until supersub Jermain Defoe dug England out of a royal mess in Amsterdam. Pundits and journalists stood in disbelief as Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry, so often reliable, made the kind of errors that schoolchildren would be embarrassed of. Had it not been so easy to take initial control, Holland probably would have lost. A lacklustre performance from the Oranje, as well as an inaudible rendition from the Dutch contingent, left most leaving the Amsterdam ArenA displeased.
Surprisingly, Holland left out key men Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, with the rest of the starting eleven as expected. And, for a while, it showed. Holland were missing a sense of flair, as England started to boss the play. Until the frailness of their defence became apparent, that is. John Terry sprayed the ball out wide to Rio Ferdinand, who tried to lay the ball to Robert Green at a snail’s pace – a clear lapse of concentration. Dirk Kuyt nipped in and rounded Green, before scuffing past a despairing Terry. England were not to be disheartened though, and Frank Lampard almost levelled as Stekelenburg saved with his legs.
But, as England attacked, Holland countered their every move. Van der Vaart’s hanging cross nearly caught out the hesitant Green, who luckily saved Kuyt’s header, before Robben’s stinging drive was tipped over. As the game became disjointed, Holland almost doubled their lead. Robin van Persie fired just wide after indecision from Barry, who breathed a sigh of relief. Soon after, relief became dejection. Another lazy backpass put Robben clean through, and although Green saved neatly, Van der Vaart was on hand to tap home, justifying his selection. It was defending that made a mockery of claims that England could win the World Cup. Teacup, more like!
Fabio Capello had spoken about his half-time ‘hairdryer treatment’, in this case it needed to be switched on full-blast. And whatever he said, worked. Half-time substitute Jermain Defoe raced on to a clever ball by Lampard, before brilliantly slotting home, albeit via the post. Game on. England started to show a bit of ‘dutch courage’, and the bravery of James Milner, who had replaced the ineffective Ashley Young, almost saw England equalise, but Carlton Cole’s shot just cleared the crossbar. Then came the break England thoroughly deserved. Indecision from the lethargic John Heitinga saw Milner race clear, before pulling the ball back for Defoe to slide home. And England could, and should, have won it. Further chances fell to Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, but both were deflected wide. England survived the only hairy second-half moment, after Glen Johnson had brought down club-mate Ryan Babel. Luckily, Sneijder’s free-kick could only find the wall.
But the undertone is, England got away with it. There is no need to knock the ball around the back four when under pressure. It leads to conceding. What’s wrong with a traditional hoof, eh?
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