“In modern football, there is no such thing as a friendly between national sides,” Holland manager Bert van Marwijk told German reporters the other day. And definitely not between Europe’s powerhouse and its smaller neighbour to the west, he could have added.
In recent decades, encounters between Germany and Holland have been laden with history and emotion. Memories of the lost 1974 World Cup final which “Holland should have won” and, in a more distant past, the Second World War still linger in the hearts and minds of the Dutch nation.
Holland got their “revenge” in the summer of 1988, when they defeated hosts West Germany by a Marco van Basten goal in the last minute of the European Championship semi-final. At the time, beating the Germans was seen by many as more important than winning the final, which the Dutch eventually managed to do. The venue, by the way, was Hamburg’s Volkspark Stadium, now turned into the Imtech Arena. It’s where the two sides will meet again on Tuesday night.
The trouble with revenge is that it can never take away the harm done. Holland players feel a “natural aggression” when they face Germany. “It gets the adrenaline going,” star attraction Wesley Sneijder told Radio Netherlands Worldwide on Wednesday.
The depth of emotion continues to bemuse the Germans, who are preoccupied with different matters, primarily themselves. “Having qualified for Euro 2012 with a perfect record, die Mannschaft are brimming with confidence,” a German TV journalist told me this week. “The question is not if Germany will become European champions next year, but how. After all, at last year’s World Cup in South Africa, Joachim Löw’s team played like Holland, now they’ve started playing like the world’s number one, Spain.”
Germany’s confidence was slightly dented on Friday when they got a taste of next year’s tournament by playing Ukraine in Kyiv's newly renovated stadium. The friendly ended in a hard-fought 3-3 draw, with the guests coming from 3-1 down. Coach Löw, who had opted for an experimental line-up in Ukraine, promised a better performance in Tuesday’s match against the Dutch.
Holland too have something to make up for. Its big-name strikers drew whistles from their home crowd after failing to score against a surprisingly strong Swiss side in another friendly on Friday.
“Yes, we’ll be seeking revenge for a match that didn’t bring us what we had bargained for,” Dirk Kuyt said after the match. “Of course, we don’t need another incentive on Tuesday. After all, we’re playing Germany on historic ground before a capacity crowd. It’ll be very exciting, something to look forward too.”
Missing no fewer than five key players, Holland coach Bert van Marwijk is forced to change his line-up once again. However, most of the replacements (for Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Robben, Afellay and Pieters) are experienced internationals.
Not a safe bet
For at least seven Dutchmen, the Hamburg Stadium is familiar ground. One of them is TSG Hoffenheim defender Edson Braafheid, who has a wager going with his German teammates. He’ll wear a black and white strip for two days if Germany win and the Hoffenheim players will wear the Netherland’s orange kit if Holland wins.
Another Dutchman playing across the border is Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. He’s expected to return to action on Tuesday wearing a face mask after breaking his nose in two places less than two weeks ago.
“What happened in 1988 and before doesn’t matter that much for the younger generation,” Huntelaar says. Still, the Holland hitman admits that Tuesday’s match will be special and very prestigious. But he adds, “there’s a great deal of mutual respect between the Holland and Germany sides”, who lie second and third in FIFA’s world ranking respectively.