Mario Gómez entered the European championship following a prolific season for Bayern Munich – the striker scored 41 goals in 52 appearances. Impressive. But there were lingering doubts surrounding the 26-year-old’s big-game temperament following his and Bayern’s huge disappointment of losing the Champions League final at the Allianz Arena. Gómez had three great chances against Chelsea, and he failed to guide a single on target. However, memories of that final were banished with his strike against Portugal, before netting a brace on Wednesday night. The opening goal was his 13th in 16 internationals. It was constructed by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who threaded a pass through the Dutch defence, which Gómez collected, prompting an elegant pirouette, before calmly slotting his finish beyond Maarten Stekelenburg. Five minutes before half-time, the former Stuttgart forward doubled his tally and Germany’s lead, curling a sumptuous shot into the top corner. At Euro 2008, Gómez had five shots in total yet failed to score once, but in Poland and Ukraine, he has shown why he is now considered one of the most lethal strikers in Europe, with his contribution at half-time since the tournament began standing at five shots, with a result of three goals – clinical.
While Gómez excelled up front for Germany, Robin van Persie endured another frustrating game as the Arsenal captain resembled a more out-of-form Fernando Torres than the striker who scored 30 Premier League goals and claimed the PFA Player of the Year crown. He had seven chances in the 1-0 defeat by Denmark in the opening game, with just three on target. Bert Van Marwijk kept faith in Van Persie for the Germany fixture and opted to leave their top scorer in qualifying, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, on the bench. But the Gunners forward’s erratic form continued. Mark van Bommel floated a delightful 30-yard pass onto Van Persie’s toe – it was almost Alex Song-esque – but the striker was unable to guide his finish past the imposing Manuel Neuer. Following Van Bommel’s effort, Arjen Robben turned provider, teeing up Van Persie, but the forward, on his unfavoured right-foot, dragged his effort wide of the German goal. Despite a fruitless first half, Van Marwijk kept faith with his talismanic striker, and Van Persie finally ended his duck with a rasping right-footed drive to halve Germany’s lead with 16 minutes remaining. It was just a consolation, but Van Persie will need to rediscover his Gunners form if the Netherlands are to beat Portugal and improve a two-goal deficit on second-placed Denmark and third-placed Portugal.
The Netherlands were runners-up at the World Cup in 2010, and en route to the semi-final in South Africa, Van Marwijk’s side conceded a paltry three goals, before a thrilling 3-2 victory over Uruguay in the last-four set up a final date with Spain. Vicente Del Bosque’s side were kept at bay until the 116th minute, when Andrés Iniesta secured his nation’s first-ever World Cup. Four of the back five that featured in the Johannesburg showpiece started against Germany, yet the Dutch were anything but compact. Schweinsteiger and Mesut Özil toyed with the opposition, and the Bayern midfielder created both of Gómez’s goals. It could have been more. Netherlands left-back Jetro Willems, aged 18 years and 76 days, became the youngest player to grace a European championship against Denmark, breaking a record held by Belgium’s Enzo Scifo since 1984. The PSV Eindhoven defender may have a blossoming reputation in the Eredivisie, but he was exposed by a canny German attack. Willems faced Bayern’s Thomas Müller – who collected the Golden Boot at the World Cup in 2010 – and Germany’s right-sided forward bamboozled his opponent time-and-time again. If Van Marwijk’s side are to have any hope of reaching the last eight, they need to rekindle their assured defensive performances from two years ago, and find a more experienced replacement for Willems to handle 46-goal Cristiano Ronaldo.
Germany and the Netherlands have shared many pulsating games over the course of their rivalry, and this was the 39th meeting between the two nations. In particular, over the past two decades, this tie has become quite heated, with the Dutch knocking out their neighbours, and then hosts, in the semi-finals of the European championship in 1988. Lothar Matthäus opened the scoring for Franz Beckenbauer’s team but Ronald Koeman equalised and Marco van Basten scored a dramatic 88th-minute winner – Rinus Michels’ Oranje went on to beat the USSR in the final to claim their only major title to date. Two years later, and Beckenbauer’s Germany struck back at the 1990 World Cup, eliminating the Netherlands courtesy of a 2-1 in the last-16 – famously Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler were both dismissed in the first half as tensions overflowed. Germany have had the edge in recent meetings, and so it proved in Kharkiv, although it was far from a classic. Van Marwijk’s side, who promised so much after their final appearance at the World Cup and sparkling form in qualifying, were outplayed by a ruthlessly efficient German outfit. Joachim Löw’s side secured Germany’s 15th victory over the Oranje, and successive victories in the ‘Group of Death’ are particularly impressive – can they exact revenge on Spain for the 2008 final? The unlucky losers that time round have the quality to become the deserved winners in Poland and Ukraine.
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