“Who was the idiot who scheduled a Bayern game (with so many German internationals) against Holland just a few weeks before Euro 2012?”
The question, posted on an FC Bayern Munich forum, sums up the mixed feelings about Tuesday’s encounter between the Champions League finalists and the 2010 World Cup runners up. The answer is, of course, that the one-off friendly was arranged to compensate the Bavarians for losing Dutch striker Arjen Robben to an injury aggravated during the World Cup.
The settlement between the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) and Bayern Munich was reached early last year after a long-running and bitter war of words over Robben, with each side accusing the other of the groin injury problems that left him out of action for many months in 2010.
The dispute was settled with “a marriage of inconvenience”, in the words of veteran sports commentator Evert ten Napel. “It’s a match both sides could have done well without”.
For the Bavarian giants, it comes on the heels of a devastating Champions League final defeat against Chelsea and follows a long season in one of the toughest competitions in the world. Bayern are still smarting from Saturday’s blow. And Robben, who missed a crucial penalty on the night won’t particularly relish the prospect of playing his club team mates with his national side. For Holland, there isn’t much to gain either.
“Basically, the friendly is a mere trifle: there’s no prize to be won, it means nothing and we should certainly not see it as a yardstick for the big showdown in Kharkov, the second match of the European Championship finals, between the Netherlands and Germany on 13 June,” says Ten Napel.
Meanwhile, German national team manager Joachim Löw fears the worst. On several occasions, he has voiced his displeasure with the fixture, coming weeks before the start of Euro 2012. Not so much because of the absence of Bayern stars in die Nationalelf’s final preparations, but mainly because of the risk of injuries. “Why not delay the friendly by a month when the European tournament ends?” Löw complained.
To appease the national team manager, pundits believe Bayern may choose to rest a few German internationals. “The question is which players will actually be part of the line-up on Tuesday,” says VfB Stuttgart and Holland defender Khalid Boulahrouz.
“After all, they’ve had a very busy calendar. But for us, it’s one of the matches to prepare for the championship finals, which means we’ll take it very seriously, like any other match.”
No orange invasion
Dutch fans, though, won’t. Normally, a Holland friendly in neighbouring Germany would attract hordes of orange-clad enthusiasts. “Now, we’ve sold only a few hundred tickets,” says Theo Pouw of Supportersclub Oranje (Orange Fan Club).
Many misgivings, a different approach, and a lack of balance - the Bayern v Holland match raises a more fundamental question: should national sides actually play club teams?
“It just makes no sense,” says Theo Pouw, “This friendy is an anomaly, a purely commercial matter. Clubs are supposed to cater for the national sides, who should play other representing teams, not clubs.”
It’s apples and oranges. After all, national sides may feature stars with a shared background, culture and playing style, but they only get together once in a while. Besides, it’s national prestige they play for, not money.
Nonetheless, there have been a few occasions in the past when club teams have actually faced national sides. In the 1980s, Arsenal played France and Australia (and won both matches). In 1999, Barcelona took on Brazil (and drew). And, a little further back, Hungary often played club teams (and trounced them).
“Don’t forget, this was Hungary’s Golden Team, with Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis and Nándor Hidegkuti,” remembers Evert ten Napel. “And they simply destroyed those club sides. The basic idea was that wide-margin victories would boost confidence and morale. And they did.”
Tuesday’s fixture, though, looks more balanced, even if key players are rested. And featuring some of the continent’s finest talents, it should be very exciting to watch.