Germany played a storming first half, and a slightly jittery second, to beat historic rivals Holland 2-1 in Group B of Euro 2012. They are now virtually assured of a place in the quarter finals.
After a slightly underwhelming first game against Portugal last Saturday, Germany finally announced their claim to the European Championship on Wednesday night with a fantastic performance in the first half in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Though misfiring striker Robin van Persie had two clear chances in the opening minutes, and the Netherlands looked determined to put right the debacle against Denmark, the Dutch were cut to pieces in the 24th minute.
The move started with central defender Mats Hummels at the back, and ended about 10 seconds later when Bastian Schweinsteiger eschewed intricate one-two options, and instead played a sweet vertical pass straight to Mario Gomez at the edge of the penalty area.
In one slick, Brazilian-style movement, Gomez turned and sent a low shot past Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal, doubling his tally for the tournament and burying the pre-match debate about whether he should have started ahead of Miroslav Klose.
Many pundits had speculated that Polish-born veteran Klose fits better into Joachim Löw's system, because, allegedly unlike Gomez, he tends to track back and help out with build-up play. Gomez was indeed on the receiving end of some bad press following the Portugal game for being too static.
But then, who needs an extra "false 9" attacker dropping back for the team, when Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, and Khedira are in this kind of rampant form?
Gomez's second goal came in the 38th minute, and once again he was fed by Schweinsteiger with the simplest of passes. This time Gomez had to more to do, as he was right of the six-yard box, but, his confidence brimming, the striker slammed the ball into the far corner.
The Netherlands pulled out their remaining much-celebrated attacking options at the start of the second half - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart - but even these additions could make nothing for the Dutch in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Germany remained in complete control for much of the second half, dominating possession and occasionally foraying forward.
But as the game began to drift, so did their concentration, and suddenly the Dutch were allowed back into game midway through the half. In the 74th minute, van Persie suddenly broke free in front of the penalty area. Holger Badstuber failed to close him down quickly enough and the Dutchman slammed in a long-range shot.
But though the Dutch then threw all they had at Germany, and German tactics switched from cruise control to panicky playing-for-time, the defense stood firm to keep the exhausted Dutch team at bay.
In the earlier group B game, Portugal managed a last-gasp 3-2 victory over Denmark.
Germany only need a draw against the Danes on Sunday to top the group - while Holland need to overrun Portugal and hope that results go their way to scrape second place.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Richard Connor