“This hurts,” Holland manager Bert van Marwijk said right after the match following his team’s shock defeat in Stockholm. “We were the better team and should have won this game. Congratulations to the Swedes, though.”
It was a tactical victory, earned by dint of hard work, solid defending and a bit of luck. In a way, the Dutch were beaten by their own game, in the sense that Sweden put result before elegance of play.
The disruptive tactics didn’t bother the 37,000-strong crowd at the Råsunda Fotbollstadion. They were happy that by beating Holland, their team had secured automatic qualification for next year’s European Championship finals as best runners-up. Besides, they wanted to see their team “put right” before their home crowd the horror 4-1 defeat in the first fixture in Amsterdam.
Now was the time to beat the Dutch, for whom there was no more, and no less, than prestige involved. After all, Oranje already had already secured both first place in qualifying Group E and top-seed status for the draw for the finals.
Sweden started off cautiously with a double defence line in a bid not to give away too much space - and to wait for the opportunity to launch a deadly counter-attack with their tall forwards. They didn’t have to wait long. Fourteen 14 minutes in, Kim Källström converted a free-kick from 20 metres with a perfect curler in the top right corner.
The Netherlands kept their cool and managed the equaliser eight minutes later when Erik Pieters sent a cross over from the left for Klaas Jan Huntelaar to head in.
Then, at the start of the second period, the match exploded, much to the enjoyment of the capacity crowd. A Dirk Kuyt header in the 48th minute gave Holland the lead. But just two minutes later, Sweden were awarded a penalty after Mathijsen handled the ball. Sebastian Larsson made no mistake from the spot. Another two minutes and Ola Toivonen punished some sloppy Dutch defending with a high shot: 3-2.
Back in their trenches
Sweden’s tactics appeared to pay off. The hosts dug themselves in once more, allowing the Dutch the dubious privilege of a lot more possession and a few more chances.
When the final whistle went, Holland coach Bert van Marwijk was facing his third defeat since 2008. The Dutch hadn't lost a qualifier for four years. They had won the previous 17 in a row. But it wasn't losing this perfect record that irked Van Marwijk:
“I’m not a great believer in statistics. I'd like to focus on how we play. Wherever we play, we play our own game. That’s important in a tournament too. But this time, we weren’t concentrated for the entire game. Lapses in the space of two minutes cost us this match.”
Sweden starting line-up:
1-Andreas Isaksson (GK); 2-Mikael Lustig; 3-Olof Mellberg; 4-Daniel Majstorovic; 5-Martin Olsson; 8-Anders Svensson; 9-Kim Källström; 20-Ola Toivonen; 7-Sebastian Larsson; 11-Johan Elmander
12-Johan Wiland; 6-Emir Bajrami; 13-Andreas Granqvist; 14-Tobias Hysén; 16-Pontus Wernbloom; 17-Pierre Bengtsson; 18-Samuel Holmén
Holland starting line-up:
1-Michel Vorm (GK); 2-Gregory van de Wiel, 3-Jeffrey Bruma; 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Erik Pieters; 6-Mark van Bommel (C); 7-Robin van Persie; 8-Kevin Strootman; 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar; 10-Rafael van der Vaart; 11-Dirk Kuyt
16-Tim Krul; 12-Khalid Boulahrouz; 13-Edson Braafheid; 14-Nigel de Jong; 15-Stijn Schaars; 17-Eljero Elia; 18-Luuk de Jong;