It’s 14:30 on a dull autumn afternoon when the Holland stars meet the press at their choice hotel on the North Sea beach. The atmosphere is relaxed as the Dutch internationals prepare for two friendlies: against Switzerland in Amsterdam on Friday and against Germany in Hamburg four days later.
One of the first to enter the meeting room is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The black and yellow lines under his eyes and the small plaster strips on his nose show why he won’t be playing on Friday.
The Schalke 04 striker had surgery last week after breaking his nose in two places during a Europa League match. On Tuesday, he might just have recovered sufficiently to play against Germany. If so, Huntelaar will be wearing a special protective face mark, which has earned him the curious nickname Hannibal Hunter.
As Huntelaar chats with German journalists – there doesn’t seem to be a single Swiss reporter around – Wesley Sneijder comes in. The Holland star attraction is in a playful mood, poking fun at Dirk Kuyt who’s been lured into a low-brow TV quiz, before meeting the Dutch press.
Having missed October’s last two Euro 2012 qualifiers, Sneijder says he’s happy to be back. “It’s always nice to play with this amazing team,” he tells Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
“We always have 70 percent ball possession or more and that’s what we intend to have. And the way we play makes it all the more enjoyable. Of course, on Friday night, the stadium will be full against Switzerland and we’ll enjoy the night.”
Sneijder’s thoughts are primarily focused on the second friendly, though, and that goes for the entire team. It doesn’t take long before the interview shifts to Holland’s arch-rivals. The Germans are in great shape and have recently gained ground on the number two in the FIFA World Ranking, the Netherlands.
“It’s easier to play Germany in the sense that you don’t need to be motivated by anybody,” Sneijder says.
“Playing the Germans gets the adrenaline going and you always feel the aggression you need. That’s a very human thing. It will be a tough game. We might not get 70 percent ball possession, but we will play our game.”
But first it’s Switzerland on Friday. Sneijder vaguely remembers the previous encounter in Geneva four years ago, which ended in a 2-1 victory for the Swiss.
“A difficult match that was. Now, we’ll just have to set it straight.” That’s easier said than done, as Switzerland, currently 18th in FIFA’s ranking, have made great strides in recent years.
The Swiss, who just missed out on Euro 2012, are a young and talented side, who are looking forward to playing “the Dutch superstars”. “One of the season highlights,” as captain Gökhan Inler put it. “For us, it’s very important to treat this friendly as if it was a competitive match,” goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was quoted as saying.
Like Holland, the Nati will be missing a few key players, like defender Reto Ziegler. But they know they have little to lose against Holland and might produce an upset. Perhaps the Dutch should be reminded that the Swiss have an excellent manager in the shape of Ottmar Hitzfeld, a German.