Loud music was played in the Amsterdam ArenA to drown out the whistles from the stands after Switzerland had held the Netherlands to a goalless draw in a friendly on Friday.
The Dutch had disappointed, never really managing to control the match and missing a series of solid chances. But what irked the crowd most were some uncharacteristic moments of weakness which allowed the Nati to bounce back and launch a series of dangerous attacks.
For a man who sets great store by consistency, Holland manager Bert van Marwijk had opted for an unusually experimental line-up. Injuries had forced him to put Khalid Boulahrouz and Edson Braafheid in right-back and left-back positions and field Ryan Babel forward. More significantly, captain Mark van Bommel and this season’s revelation Kevin Strootman were rested. Replacing them as holding midfielders were Rafael van der Vaart and Nigel de Jong. In short: quite an offensive side on paper.
Disrupting Dutch play
However, from the start, Switzerland kept the playing area small, heaping pressure on the two holding midfielders, thus preventing Holland to achieve their usual 70 percent possession. Those tactics worked but required a great deal of energy. The Swiss are a young and athletic side with excellent technical skills, but would they be able to keep up the pressure? The answer seemed to come after 15 minutes when Babel struck from point-blank range forcing a great stop by Diego Benaglio. Eight minutes later, the Swiss goalkeeper denied the Hoffenheim striker again.
However, as the match progressed, the Dutch increasingly dug themselves in, waiting for a rapier counter. That enabled the all-reds to move forward and even get the better chances towards the end of the first period. Admir Mehmedi, for instance, came very close to opening the score on 36 minutes, angling the ball into the side netting from ten metres. The home crowd weren’t pleased. When the half-time signal came, it was accompanied by a chorus of whistles and jeers.
Buoyed by applause at the start of the second period, Holland quickly obtained more possession and for several minutes managed to keep the ball in the opponents’ half of the pitch. A flurry of opportunities followed for the Dutch and Benaglio had to go down well again to save a Van Persie header on 50 minutes. Four minutes later, a Sneijder volley hit the top of the net. An elegant Van der Vaart curler from the ensuing corner went centimeters over the bar. But the Swiss fought back and again managed to emerge dangerously close to Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal, prompting more whistles from the stands.
Impatience and irritation turned into anger when Van Persie squandered two tailor-made opportunities in a row. With only the goalkeeper in front of him, the Arsenal topscorer stroked the ball agonisingly wide. Moments later, he completely fluked a flying bicycle kick.
Both sides were close to scoring in the dying minutes of the game. "It could easily have ended in 2-2," Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld told the press afterwards. He complimented his team for never allowing the hosts to come into their game. "We were the moral winners. Creating four or five chances against a world class team like Holland doesn't happen every day."
There were words of praise for the Swiss from Bert van Marwijk too: "a solid side who deserved the draw". The Holland manager was less pleased with the chorus of disapproval from the stands. "We've hardly lost a game in recent years and our style of play has won respect all over the world, but here we get this negative response from the crowd when for once we don't live up to high expectation. That's typically Dutch, I'm afraid."
Holland's performance on the night doesn’t bode well for the next friendly on Tuesday, when Oranje face a more formidable opponent in the shape of Germany. Neither does the absence of Van der Vaart (hamstring injury) and Van Persie (rested).
"I’ll put my money on Germany," Hitzfeld said with a smile, "To some of you that may not come as a surprise, because I'm a German myself."
1-Maarten Stekelenburg (GK); 2-Khalid Boulahrouz, 3-John Heitinga; 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Edson Braafheid; 6-Nigel de Jong; 7-Dirk Kuyt; 8-Rafael van der Vaart (18-Kevin Strootman); 9-Robin van Persie; 10-Wesley Sneijder; 11-Ryan Babel (20-Luuk de Jong)
1-Diego Benaglio; 2-Stephan Lichtsteiner; 20-Johan Djourou; 5-Steve Von Bergen; 13-Ricardo Rodriguez; 23-Xherdan Shaqiri (16-Gelson Fernandes); 8-Gökhan Inler; 15-Blerim Dzemaili; 19-Fabian Frei (7-David Degen); 17-Granit Xhaka (18-Moreno Costanzo); 11-Admir Mehmedi