They used to be two of the super-powers of the European game, but tonight Holland and Germany both gave performances that would seem to indicate that there is little chance of either of them winning this tournament. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but the most significant thing to come from the game is that Holland are not as good as they think they are, and Germany are not as bad.
The Dutch seem to be a squad in perpetual bickering and disagreement, and it showed in their performance tonight. Huffing and puffing but rarely convincing, there is a lot of work for Dick Advocaat if he wants to bow out of the International scene as a winner. The Germans, however, showed that they may not have enough to win the competition, but, at 20/1 they are worth at least an each-way bet.
The scene before the game was a magnificent one. Whether you like them or not, you simply can't deny the Dutch fans ability to brighten up these tournaments. The stadium was a sea of orange before kick-off and it made for a spectacular sight in an equally spectacular stadium.
Of course, when it comes to these two sides thoughts of the war are never far away, indeed Ruud Van Nistlerooy made controversial comments on that very subject earlier in the week. And, in a sadistic twist of fate, even tonight's kick-off time - 19:45 - had connections to the reason these two teams don't like each other very much.
It is felt that this is the weakest German side for some considerable time, but Dick Advocaat, our former coach and Director of Football, was having none of it in a press conference before the game. "They always say that they are not strong but they always get to the last four of tournaments. So stop, please", was Advocaat's thoughts on the perceived poor German side. It is worth taking note, though, that Advocaat is viewed as a very nervous manager in his home country.
The early stages would have clamed him slightly as Holland took the initiative and should have scored after only two minutes when a superb through ball from Philip Cocu presented Van Nistlerooy with a golden opportunity to score. The Manchester Utd striker choked, though, and the chance was gone.
The German striker Kuranyi received what must be a contender for the most ludicrous booking of the tournament so far when he blatantly handled in the Dutch box. The Brazilian born striker used his talents more productively a few minutes later, though, when he pulled a good save from Van Der Sar with a good effort from outside the box. From the resultant corner Worns had the best chance of the match when he headed wide from close range.
The growing confidence in the Germans brought about the first goal on the half-hour mark when Frings opened the scoring with a wickedly struck free-kick from the flank after a cheaply conceded free-kick by Philip Cocu. Frings flung in an in swinger to a crowded box. With much pushing and shoving to try and get on the end of it, everyone lost their bearings and the ball evaded the glut of players and went in off the far post.
Holland quite simply looked stunned after that and the Germans seemed to increase in confidence and started to stroke the ball about well, although Van Der Vaart was extremely unlucky with an effort right on the death of the half. But overall, the Germans were the happier side when the teams headed up the tunnel at half-time.
The Dutch made two changes at the interval, most notably the introduction of Marc Overmars, in an attempt to redress the balance and amend the damage done in the first-half. But for long periods in the second-half the Dutch looked a like a shadow of their former selves and barely troubled the German defence. It is regularly mooted that all is not well in the Dutch camp and that several senior players do not see eye to eye. Advocaat also has the look of a man who simply does not know what his best side or system is.
He has went on record as saying that Kluivert and Van Nistlerooy will not play up front together again - the formers skills were not called upon at any stage and Pierre Van Hooijdonk was preferred towards the end of the game - but it is obvious that some way of making them work together is maybe the key to lifting them above this level of performance and making a mark in the tournament. Van Nistlerooy cut a lonely figure up front for most of the game and saw very little of the action as Holland struggled to make any headway; struggled that is until the most unlikely of equalisers in the 82nd minute.
There seemed little danger when Holland won possession in the far corner with Van Der Meyde, but he managed to send in a vicious cross which was met on the volley by Van Nistlerooy under pressure from Worns, and in an instant the Dutch had pulled an unlikely equaliser from the bag and had changed the whole tempo for the remainder of the match.
Suddenly, the Dutch believed in themselves and turned the screw on their neighbours. Cocu came close with a header and Germany, for the first time, looked pregnable and slightly rattled. But the late rally was not enough and both teams had to settle for a draw. Rudi Voller and Germany will be the happier of the two sides as they have arrived at this tournament with no-one giving them a hope. Dick Advocatt and Holland, though, have problems that might be their undoing before the knock-out stages begin. In a tournament where Holland have an ocean of enemies, their biggest one is still themselves.
Germany: Kahn, Friedrich, Worns, Nowotny, Lahm, Schneider, Hamann, Baumann, Ballack, Frings, Kuranyi.
Holland: Van der Sar, Heitinga, Stam, Bouma, Van Bronckhorst, Davids, Cocu, Zenden, Van der Vaart, van Nistelrooy, Van der Meyde.