0 v 2 Holland – White Hart Lane, 15 August 2001
Sven-Göran Eriksson’s fine run of five consecutive wins came to an emphatic
end at White Hart Lane as Holland produced 45 minutes of masterful,
stylish and penetrative football to outclass a lacklustre England.
opportunistic goals inside two minutes midway through the first half
were enough to finally separate the sides but given the number of
opportunities that the Dutch had, a scoreline of more than double that
would not have flattered their efforts.
first international of the season is traditionally a tricky game for
England to negotiate and so it proved on a balmy evening in North London
as Holland metered
out a harsh footballing lesson to their hosts. Both Eriksson and the
Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal had made it clear that this match was a
friendly in name only and both regarded it as an important stepping
stone towards respective - and vital - World Cup qualifiers on September
1. "Winning is important for the team – even in friendly
games" – A serious face ensuring that Eriksson’s pre-match
sentiment was clearly communicated to the media.
have always proved to be worthy and dangerous opponents for the national
side and apart from the memorable Euro ’96 encounter often have the
upper hand in these contests.
fielded only five players even likely to start in Munich and Eriksson
kept faith with two starting strikers, Andrew Cole and Robbie Fowler,
who are both currently out of favour with their respective club sides.
The absence of Steven Gerrard offered Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher the
opportunity to demonstrate his combative midfield ability and in defence
Martin Keown and Wes Brown deputised for the probable first choice
absent pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell. Nigel Martyn, the
perennial understudy to David Seaman, got a rare start in goal and
Ashley Cole and Gary Neville filled the left and right back positions
respectively. The increasingly influential David Beckham and his
team-mate – Paul Scholes provided the real hub of quality in midfield.
has also made clear his penchant for new boy Owen Hargreaves. He has
called him a "star of the future" and regular England fans
waited with anticipation to see the FC Bayern München AG player make his senior
debut along side the Premiership regulars. Hargreaves, making a step-up
from club football to the international stage, found it difficult to
find rhythm and touch. Although regarded by many as a utility player
potentially capable of playing in a variety of positions, Hargreaves
looked out of position wide on the left - and at times a little out of
his depth. His debut, while not particularly noteworthy, has to be seen
in the context of an all-round poor performance by the whole team.
Dutch, determined to get the most out of this game by way of
preparation, fielded the strongest side available to them and the
attacking partnership of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert
probably ranks among the best in Europe. The inclusion of Edgar Davids
on the bench – currently suspended from competitive games for testing
positive for the banned substance Nandrolone – raised more than a few
eyebrows in the media. With Edwin Van Der Sar in goal, the exciting
Bedouin Zenden on the right and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst in an
unfamiliar left-back role the Dutch team may have had liberal
Premiership representation but only Jaap Stam actually has any league
games under his belt.
delays around White Hart Lane delayed the kick-off by 15 minutes as
supporters dribbled into the ground.
game started brightly and on 7 minutes Zenden, getting behind Ashley
Cole on the right wing crossed into the six-yard area to Nistelrooy.
Only an excellent challenge from Keown prevented a disastrous start for
minutes later Holland, having by now found a passing rhythm and control,
well above that of England, were moving the ball around with ease. Van
Bommel, holding a central midfield position, delivered a devastatingly
penetrative through ball past Carragher and between Keown and Brown to
the on-side Van Nistelrooy in abundant space. Only an excellent block by
Martyn prevented a certain opener and Kluivert’s follow-up was
thankfully skewed wide. The ease with which England’s defence was
bisected was worrying – all the more so as the replay showed Gary
Neville failing to move up with the line and clearly playing Van
only early opportunity initially came from a wonderful cross-field pass
from Hargreaves to Beckham on the right hand edge of the penalty area.
Beckham’s subsequent cross appeared to be handled by Van Bronckhorst
– but the muted appeal was turned down – Beckham, retrieving the
ball for a second time, turned Van Bronckhorst three times in a mazy run
into the penalty area and shot low at Van De Sar – who saved
comfortably. It was the first time England had applied pressure to the
visitors in the game. Half-chances for Fowler (a lob) and Scholes (a
shot) were about as close as England could come to breaking the
26 minutes a deft interchange between Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert found
Cocu in the penalty area. Ashley Cole’s brutal challenge was as close
to a penalty as one is likely to witness and the referee, well placed to
decide, waved away the concerted Dutch protests – to England’s
Zenden, a constant threat down the right and Overmars, a little quieter
on the left – Holland had the potential to attack from both wings.
England, with probably their best pressure of the half, saw good close
control and a weak shot from Andrew Cole – kicked away by Van De Sar
and a blistering drive from Gary Neville acrobatically turned over the
bar on 34 minutes. Hero Neville turned villain minutes later as he was
booked for a dangerous, and unnecessary, two-footed tackle.
minutes later the game was all but over as Holland, with two pieces of
outstanding opportunism, put paid to England’s ambition and
39 minutes gone, Marc Van Bommel, with more space than he is likely to
find in his local park on a Sunday morning, let fly a scorching drive
from 35 yards out. Martyn, initially unsighted, could do nothing to keep
out a ball travelling at 70mph into the top corner. One wonders if
Steven Gerrard would have given Van Bommel quite as much space as
failing, evident in the first half and highlighted by Eriksson after the
game was that England showed far too much respect to the opposition and
Carragher’s inability to close down Van Bommel before the first goal
was precisely symptomatic of that observation.
one goal wasn’t bad enough, a second goal was hot on its heels.
Kluivert, turning Carragher inside out, set up Zenden for a superb
central strike at England’s goal. Although Martyn’s fine parry
prevented a goal – the predatory Van Nistelrooy pounced to dispatch
the rebound into the back of the net for Holland’s second. England
were rocking at this point and only poor finishing from Jaap Stam
moments later – when his free header was pushed well wide –
prevented England going three goals adrift.
performance in the first half was already equalling one of the best by
any visiting side in recent years and just before the break an exquisite
example of breathtaking individual brilliance from van Nistelrooy almost
threatened to knock England out cold. His elegant chip over a statuesque
Martyn was only denied by the thickness of the crossbar. For a moment,
the whole game seemed to be in suspended animation.
continued to stroke the ball around and a frustrated challenge by Jamie
Carragher on Zenden results in a caution for the Liverpool player. The
half-time break was as welcome for England as it was unwelcome for the
is beginning to explore a different approach to friendly matches from
any of his predecessors. By agreeing wholesale and unlimited
substitutions during a match he can at once both satisfy club demands to
‘go easy’ on players with other domestic and European priorities as
well as having the opportunity to look at as many players as he can in a
competitive fixture. It almost has the ring of an ‘A’ and ‘B’
international rolled into one.
a combined total of thirteen changes made by both sides during the
interval the overall assessment of the game is muddied considerably.
Only Keown, Carragher and Andrew Cole retain their places at the start
of the second half. Five changes for the opposition, including the
departure of the Manchester United complement, and arrival of the
Chelsea pair Hasselbaink and Melchiot merely adds to the disjointed
appear to have picked up where they left off when Hasselbaink running
onto an intelligent through ball from Edgar Davids forces an excellent
block from the new West Ham signing David James. In making the save,
James and Keown collide – knee to knee – and both are substituted,
making James’ substitution probably one of the quickest on record at
58 seconds. The new Arsenal No. 2 Richard Wright replaces James in goal
and the Middlesbrough defender Ugo Ehiogu replaces Keown to form an
early pre-season club partnership with Gareth Sougthgate at the back.
Only Alan Smith remains on the bench as England’s last potential
home nation offer sterner resistance during the opening exchanges of the
second period and the additional arrival of Nicky Barmby, Frank Lampard,
Michael Carrick, Danny Mills, Chris Powell and Michael Owen does much to
alter the complexion and psychology of the game. Holland, without the
dangerous wingers Zenden and Overmars – find their options limited to
more centrally focussed attacks.
roundly booed by the White Hart Lane crowd looked composed and
experienced in the midfield and linked up well with the intelligent
Kluivert. Despite this, the visitors make virtually no chances, content
instead to try and frustrate England in their attempts to redeem
something from the match.
the inevitable arrival of Alan Smith (Andrew Cole giving way) a new and
aggressive element is introduced. Smith, partly by example and partly by
reputation – does much to fire up the crowd and raise the tempo of the
game – rather in same way that someone like Duncan Ferguson does. His
touches and tackles are straight and often painfully to the point.
Mills, reminiscent of Steve Stone from a few years back, was workmanlike
down the right and had made some headway in trying to cross into the
front, Michael Owen has a number of half chances – none of which were
taken. With better service, Owen has the potential to turn a game in a
few seconds – his best attribute being his often frightening pace.
Jaap Stam, in his recently publicised biography, made derisory remarks
about Owen, calling him "over-rated" and "having poor
control". Owen had the clearest opportunity to put Stam in his
place and salvage at least something from the game when he intercepted a
poor back pass by Melchiot, turned inside Hofland and blasted an
excellent scoring chance over substitute ‘keeper Waterhreus and over
the bar. Stam one, Owen nil.
of the tests of a new manager is how he reacts after a defeat and for
Eriksson it was noticeable how calm he was. Never one to show emotions
at either ends of the scale – his analysis was thoughtful and
reasoned. While lamenting the poor display by England - gently
criticising them for showing too much respect for the Dutch by playing
too deep and giving them a lot of space in which to play - he was also
proportionately complimentary about the Dutch and their performance.
it may appear that the Dutch coach Van Gaal got more from the game in
preparation for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier – it should not be
overlooked that Eriksson – and his England players – may have been
able to learn more about their vulnerabilities than the Dutch did.
was refreshing to see that most the media were fairly forgiving of
Eriksson’s first defeat – concentrating instead on admiring the
talents of the Dutch and raising the stakes for the Germany game. Such
is the unpredictability of football that Holland are struggling to even
qualify for a World Cup play-off berth while England are still angling
for an automatic top-spot.
in world football will fail to take notice of the game in Munich on
September 1st and England have a score to settle like no other. Despite
this defeat, England are clearly a side on the up and the game in three
weeks looks as open now as it ever did. A victory for Eriksson would
undoubtedly cement his acceptance as national coach and reinforce the
belief that he can take England further forward than any coach in the
last 35 years.