Holland shatter Swedish dream

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Almost filled to capacity, the Amsterdam ArenA was awash with bright orange as around 45,000 football enthusiasts turned up for what was billed as one of the deciding qualifying matches for the 2012 European Championships. 

More than 4,000 of them had taken the plane or ferry from Sweden to watch their side, currently 32nd in the FIFA rankings, take on the World Cup runners up.

Both teams started the match with a perfect record and the ambition to snatch pole position in Group E by beating the other with attractive play. They didn’t disappoint their fans. On the contrary, as early as the fourth minute, in-form Rafael van der Vaart bisected the Nordic centre-backs, putting Klaas Jan Huntelaar into scoring position 12 metres from the goal-line: 1-0. A minute later, playmaker Wesley Sneijder hammered the ball high into the side netting. And in the 14th minute, another howitzer by the short midfielder forced a spectacular save by goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.

Clearly shaken, the men in blue tried desperately to reach their big star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but John Heitinga kept him well marked. The greatest chance for the Swedes came in the 23rd minute when Ola Toivonen lifted the ball over Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but was just centimetres wide of the post. It brought back some life to the silenced blue and yellow section of the ArenA.

The last part of the first half saw a more physical game, with the tall Swedes resorting to rougher play. However, it was an unfortunate landing which left Dirk Kuyt limping off the pitch. His replacement, Jeremain Lens, brought more depth and speed into the game. The Dutch upped the pressure and a subtle Sneijder through-ball found leftwinger Ibrahim Afellay straying into the centre to tuck the ball into the net.

The two opening minutes to the second half saw as many chances for the Dutch. And then, suddenly and literally out of the blue, things turned nasty, with Zlatan attempting to slice his marker in two. It was certainly a bookable offence, but the French referee Stéphane Lannoy only cautioned the Sweden captain.

The Dutch responded swiftly and in style, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scoring after some nifty tricks by Ibrahim Afellay and the two reversing roles to repeat the goal three minutes later: 4-0, game over for the Swedes.

Gallery play
With a 4-goal advantage, the Dutch had the luxury of playing to the gallery. Which of course didn't go down well with the demoralised Swedes. Hot-headed Ola Toivonen blew his chances of a speedy transfer to Bayern Munich after ramming his boot into Van Bommel's back. This time the ugly foul didn't go unnoticed and a yellow card was given.

Sweden's hopes were revived when Andreas Granqvist scored, paving the way for half a dozen chances in the final 20 minutes, triggering some heroic Stekelenburg saves. It was all or nothing for the Nordic team, who had come to Amsterdam to cause an upset. Their upbeat coach, Erik Hamrén, hadn't tired of telling the media about his recent day-dreaming: "In my head we've played a number of matches against Holland - and won them all," he said. That dream turned into something of a nightmare on Tuesday night.

Holland 4 - Sweden 1

Klaas Jan Huntelaar (4', 55')
Ibrahim Afellay (37', 58')

Holland starting line-up:

1-Maarten Stekelenburg; 2-Gregory van der Wiel, 3-John Heitinga, 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Erik Pieters; 6-Mark van Bommel, 18-Rafael van der Vaart; 7-Dirk Kuyt, 10-Wesley Sneijder, 11-Ibrahim Afellay; 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar

Substitutions: Jeremain Lens, Wout Brama and Ruud van Nistelrooij for Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel and Klaas Jan Huntelaar

Sweden starting line-up:

1-Andreas Isaksson (GK); 5-Behrang Safari, 13-Andreas Granqvist, 4-Daniel Majstorovic, 2-Mikael Lustig; 16-Pontus Wernbloom, 8-Anders Svensson, 11-Johan Elmander; 6-Ola Toivonen, 7-Sebastian Larsson; 10-Zlatan Ibrahimović

Substitutions: Oscar Wendt, Kim Källström and Marcus Berg for Behrang Safari, Pontus Wernbloom and Ola Toivonen