Germany sent the Netherlands to the brink of an early exit from soccer’s European Championship with a 2-1 victory founded on familiarity.
A minute after Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez combined for the second time to put Germany 2-0 up in Kharkiv, Ukraine, last night, their Bayern Munich teammate Arjen Robben, playing for the Netherlands, failed to read Wesley Sneijder’s intentions at a short corner.
The Dutch attack was snuffed out, leaving Robben holding his hands on his hips in frustration as a German team featuring seven Bayern players in its lineup mounted a counterattack.
“It’s an advantage for the whole team when players know each other,” Gomez told reporters after taking his tally to a tournament-leading three goals alongside Russia’s Alan Dzagoev.
The victory leaves the Netherlands, whose starting lineup featured players who finished last season with 11 different clubs, facing elimination from Euro 2012 at the group stage following back-to-back losses. The Dutch, who won their only continental title in 1988, have reached at least the quarterfinals for six straight editions.
Germany leads Group B with six points, ahead of Portugal and Denmark on three points each. The Netherlands, runner-up at the 2010 World Cup, must beat Portugal by a two-goal margin on June 17 to have any chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals. Germany will advance as the group winner by avoiding defeat to Denmark in the final game of a pool whose four teams are all ranked in the world’s top 10 by governing body FIFA.
“We’ve opened the gate to the quarterfinals,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said at a news conference. “In this so-called Group of Death we already have six points and that’s against two very strong teams. That’s very good.”
About 15,000 Dutch fans clad in orange traveled to the game, outnumbering the Germans by about three to one. Their team made the better start and wasted chances to open the scoring.
Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk resisted calls in the Dutch media to bring striker Klass Jan Huntelaar into his attack after Robin Van Persie failed to score from seven attempts inside the penalty area in the June 9 loss to Denmark.
Van Persie twice missed when sent clear on goal in the first 10 minutes. The Arsenal striker shot straight at goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and then dragged an effort wide after being played in by Robben.
Gomez and Schweinsteiger, who shared a room in Kharkiv after the team flew in from its tournament base in Gdansk, Poland, combined for the first time in the 24th minute.
Schweinsteiger spotted Gomez’s run and hit a defense-splitting pass that Gomez took on the turn before slotting past Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
“We have a very good relationship on the pitch,” Gomez said. “He plays balls just how I want to have them.”
The goal silenced the Dutch fans who had been the most vocal. Stekelenburg made a reflex save from Holger Badstuber in the 36th minute, though failed to prevent Gomez blasting his second goal into the top left corner two minutes later as Schweinsteiger again played provider.
Van Marwijk made attacking changes at the start of the second half as Huntelaar and Rafael Van der Vaart replaced Ibrahim Affelay and captain Mark Van Bommel.
Although the substitutions roused the Dutch fans into singing along with a brass band, their team nearly went 3-0 down as Stekelenburg made a save from Mats Hummels.
With 17 minutes remaining, the Dutch struck back. Van Persie, who’d been moved to the left to accommodate Huntelaar, took Robben’s pass and took three paces inside before hitting a 25-yard (23-meter) shot into the bottom corner.
Robben was withdrawn in the 83rd minute just after club teammate Philipp Lahm dispossessed him on the right wing.
Van Marwijk, whose team lost the 2010 World Cup final to a Spain lineup featuring six Barcelona players, said familiarity with Robben’s game had worked to Germany’s advantage.
“It’s easier to defend a player you know well,” he said.