Only half of the Allianz Arena’s 66,000 seats were taken for a friendly which all sides involved could well have done without. Tuesday’s Bayern v Holland fixture was organised to compensate the Bavarians for losing Dutch striker Arjen Robben in the domestic league for several months due to an injury aggravated while playing for his country during the 2010 World Cup.
The timing of the friendly was unfortunate, coming only three days after Bayern’s devastating Champions League defeat – at the same venue - against Chelsea on Saturday. Had the home team won the prestigious cup, the Munich stadium would have been filled to capacity and become the scene of massive after-party celebrations. Now, the atmosphere was subdued, with the home crowd still in a state of mourning.
“It’s mostly - but not all - Robben’s fault,” says die-hard Oranje fan Caroline. She’s referring to the penalty kick which the mercurial Dutch striker missed during extra time in Saturday’s tie, which Chelsea eventually won 4-3 on penalties. “They say he’s down in the dumps, but come on, the guy is a professional, so he should be able to take it on the chin and get over this quickly.”
Fuss about Robben
Caroline is one of just a few hundred die-hard fans, who drove the long 800-kilometre stretch to Munich to watch the friendly. “It’s surreal. Normally, there would have been thousands of orange-clad supporters like us,” her partner Paul adds. “Interest among Bayern fans is exceptionally low, too, even though ticket prices have dropped to below 25 euros since Saturday, give-away prices.”
Let’s get it all over with and make the best of it, the two coaches must have thought. They both fielded experimental teams. Several key Holland stars like Robin van Persie, Mark van Bommel and John Heitinga were rested. There were debuts for 18-year-old PSV left-back Jetro Willems and 21-year-old Heerenveen winger Luciano Narsingh.
Missing for the hosts were the likes of Frank Ribéry, Manuel Neuer and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Nonetheless, there was plenty of pedigree left on both sides.
Dressed in their brand-new black away kit, the Dutch squad entered the arena without Arjen Robben. The embattled star sneaked into the dugout where he hid for about five minutes before joining the substitutes. There was no applause, no booing or jeering either.
The game got off to a slow start and the crowd kept quiet for about four minutes. Then the 20,000-plus all got up from their seats to give their team a therapeutic ovation.
The support from the fans worked. On 16 minutes, Bayern playmaker Toni Kroos got the opener with a long-distance strike which Michel Vorm could have saved. One minute later, however, Bundesliga topscorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leveled proceedings with a low shot from inside the penalty box. When Luciano Narsingh chipped the ball over veteran keeper Jörg Butt, it was time for gallery play, with some displays of football acrobatics from Wesley Sneijder and captain Rafael van der Vaart.
After a second ovation, though, it was Bayern’s turn to level the score with a powerful Nils Pedersen header.
On 33 minutes, Germany star Thomas Müller was substituted, a move likely to have been prompted by Germany teamchef Joachim Löw’s misgivings about the friendly. Both the German and Holland managers feared injuries as well as serious disruption of their pre-Euro 2012 training programmes.
This might explain why Bert van Marwijk made no fewer than six substitutions during the break, taking off playmakers Sneijder and Van der Vaart. The move, however, bolstered Holland’s shaky defence and brought more cohesion into their game.
Then on 58 minutes, Robben emerged for a warm-up, initially triggering a curious blend of applause. whistles and jeers, followed by lengthy chants of his name. The same sequence of noise emanated from the stands 15 minutes before the final whistle when the Bayern star finally came on the pitch, to play against his own club.
Five minutes from time, Bayern again took the lead when Mario Gomez tapped in a cross from Frank Ribéry, who had both come on when Holland threatened to get the upper hand. And so the friendly ended in a 3-2 consolation victory for the hosts, and more rounds of applause for both Bayern and Arjen Robben.
Bayern starting line-up:
1-Jörg Butt, 9-Nils Petersen, 11-Ivica Olic, 13–Rafinha, 23-Danijel Pranjic, 25-Thomas Müller, 27-David Alaba, 28-Holger Badstuber, 30-Luiz Gustavo, 39-Toni Kroos, 44-Anatolly Tymoschchuk
Holland starting line-up:
22-Michel Vorm (Swansea City), 4-Khalid Boulahrouz (VfB Stuttgart), 23-Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), 14-Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), 25-Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven), 9-Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), 21-Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur), 19-Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), 15-Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), 11-Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), 7-Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke)