Holland struggled past Finland on Tuesday but the win secured qualification for the 2012 European Championship. The match itself was less than spectacular but extends a hugely impressive qualifying campaign in which the Dutch have won all eight matches.
RNW's Theo Tamis was in Helsinki for the game and filed the following report.
Following heavy rain in the afternoon, Helsinki’s 40,000-seat Olympic stadium was only half filled. Apparently, the fans preferred to stay dry and watch the Euro 2012 qualifier between the numbers one and 79 on the FIFA world rankings at home.
That wide difference on the FIFA list was hardly reflected on the soggy pitch, though. During most of the first period, Finland kept the playing area confined to midfield, denying the Netherlands an early lead and maybe even preventing them from netting a goal in the process.
"I was surprised by Finland's defensive tactics", Holland coach van Marwijk told the press after the match. Nevertheless, his team could easily have opened the score in the first quarter, if Dirk Kuyt hadn’t hit the goalkeeper in the first minute and a Heitinga tip-in hadn’t been disallowed.
The goal eventually came in the 30th minute when Kevin Strootman flicked a delicious cross from Wesley Sneijder into the corner of the net. “Ten, ten, ten,” the 400-odd Dutch crowd chanted, referring to Holland’s 11-0 rout of San Marino in last Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier.
Among the orange contingent was Willie van Deelen, a loyal Oranje fan, who's hardly missed a match, home or away, for the past ten years. This time he’d taken his wife with him and booked a room in the hotel where the Dutch stars are staying, a cycle-ride away from the Olympia Stadium. The players are quite accessible, said Beppie, “particularly the big names like Wesley Sneijder. I told him he looks a bit like my son, who’s short and stocky too and has the same hairstyle”.
Wesley Sneijder was definitely the man of the first half, which Holland, in Willie’s view, played not nearly fast enough. “Ball circulation was too slow, and there simply wasn’t enough depth in the game. Too many passes went to the flanks. Still, Holland dominated much of the game and the Finnish strikers were quick and agile, but presented no real danger.”
As if they had listened to Willie, Holland stepped up a gear after half-time, slicing through the centre with long precision-passes, creating a flurry of chances in the process. But goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky denied Robin van Persie at least two goals.
Then, out of the blue, Finland hit back twice and left-back Erik Pieters had to clear from the goal-line to prevent the equaliser. Minutes later, with half an hour to go, came the tipping point in the match: a second yellow card and thus the sending off of Finland midfielder Perparim Hetemaj.
Whereas Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen responded by making a defensive substitution, his Dutch counterpart decided to bring in some fresh, and young, blood. Juventus' new signing Eljero Elia and FC Twente hitman Luuk de Jong replaced Robin van Persie and topscorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who had both failed to net some solid chances. "I wanted to infuse more aggression and thus boost the level of play," the Holland coach explained. But the two newcomers initially weren't lucky either, missing a chance each within a single minute.
Holland played poorly
Finally, in the last minute of added time, the two subsitutes combined to score the 2-0, with Luuk de Jong converting an Elia cross.
"Quite disappointing," Willie commented. "A poor performance by Holland, for which they only have themselves to blame. Then again, Finland defended very well and their goalkeeper saved the day for them."
At the press conference following the game, Finland coach Paatelainen was full of praise for both sides. His own team had "performed up to par against top-class players, keeping organised and carrying out their duties well". He also complimented the Holland coach on "making a perfect analysis of Finland's 4-1 rout of Moldova on Friday - tactically, the Dutch were spot on."
Mr Van Marwijk, however, wasn't pleased at all. He had been fuming in front of the dug-out. Dutch journalists told him they had never seen him so angry. "It was sheer frustration," the Holland coach explained, "because the team took it too easily. And I had hammered home to them beforehand that this was the decider. Well, luckily, the good news is that we've come very close to qualifying for next year's European Championship finals."
Finland 0 - Holland 2
Goals: Kevin Strootman ('29) and Luuk de Jong ('90+3)
Finland starting line-up:
1-Lukas Hradecky; 2-Petri Pasanen; 3-Niklas Moisander (C); 4-Joona Toivio; 7-Roman Eremenko; 8-Perparim Hetemaj; 9-Mikael Forssell; 10-Teemu Pukki; 13-Kari Arkivuo; 19-Alexander Ring; 21-Kasper Hämäläinen;
12-Otto Fredrikson (GK); 6-Mika Väyrynen; 14-Tim Sparv; 15-Markus Halsti; 16-Daniel Sjölund; 22-Jukka Raitala; 23-Markus Heikkinen
Holland starting line-up:
1-Maarten Stekelenburg; 2-Gregory van de Wiel, 3-John Heitinga; 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Erik Pieters; 6-Mark van Bommel (C); 7-Robin van Persie; 8-Kevin Strootman; 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar; 10-Wesley Sneijder; 11-Dirk Kuyt
16-Michel Vorm; 12-Khalid Boulahrouz; 13-Edson Braafheid; 14-Hedwiges Maduro; 15-Georginio Wijnaldum; 17-Eljero Elia; 18-Luuk de Jong