Germany have fallen 3-2 to the Netherlands in the UEFA Under-21 Championship. An impressive comeback was spoiled by a last-minute header, but there is still hope for a successful tournament from the Germans.
The Dutch drew first blood in Germany's opening match of the tournament, played in the HaMoshava Stadium in Petah Tikva, Israel.
Adam Maher opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Ola John played the ball through from the left wing and Maher was there to smack the ball home with his right foot from just inside the box. German goalkeeper Bernd Leno should have been in position to stop the shot, but he lost the trajectory of the ball as it went through traffic.
Fifteen minutes later, Georgino Wijnaldum doubled the Dutch lead. Taking the ball from the right wing, he cut through nearly the entire German defense before firing a powerful shot straight at Leno. The keeper got two hands on it, but the ball went back over his head and bounced into the net.
The second questionable play from Leno capped what was a dismal first half for the German Under-21s, and it was 2-0 to the Netherlands as the two teams went in for halftime.
Germany fight back falls short
Germany struck back just moments after the restart. Captain Lewis Holtby received the ball in the box and was brought down by the Dutch keeper Jeroen Zeot. Sebastian Rudy stepped up to the penalty spot and his powerful effort narrowed the score to 2-1.
The equalizer came from Lewis Holtby in the 81st minute. Receiving the ball off a throw-in, Holtby turned and cut into the center of the pitch before putting a low shot with his weaker left foot past Zoet. It was a fitting equalizer to what was an impressive comeback from the Germans.
Just as it looked like Germany had secured a draw, the Dutch nabbed a winner one minute before the end. Leroy Fer's leaping header off a corner beat Leno and sucked the wind out of the German side.
The match finished 3-2, a weak first half from Germany proving to be the deciding factor against their Dutch rivals.
Can past success be repeated?
The German under-21s came into the tournament with relatively mixed expectations. An exciting and experienced squad made the trip to Israel, but Germany are in a difficult group against the likes not only of the Netherlands, but also Russia and 2011 tournament champions Spain.
Germany last won the tournament in 2009. That team included future stars like Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and Manuel Neuer.
On paper, this year's squad lacks that star power. Only one player - Holtby - has made any appearances for the senior team (though Patrick Herrmann has also been called into camp). What the squad does have is plenty of Bundesliga and youth international experience.
Holtby is undoubtedly the leader of the team. After being a key part of the Schalke setup during the first half of the Bundesliga season, he made a two-million euro ($2.65 million) move to Tottenham in January. He has struggled for regular playing time at his new English home, but his vision and link play remain an important part of the German Under-21 setup.
Herrmann, an attacking winger, and defender Tony Jantscke enjoyed strong seasons with Borussia Mönchengladbach. Central midfielder Sebastian Rode of Eintracht Frankfurt impressed so much this campaign he has already caught the eye of Bayern Munich, with a move expected to come in 2014. Goalkeeper Leno, while often overlooked in discussions about Germany's bountiful goalkeeping talent, helped Bayer Leverkusen to a third-place finish this season in the league.
Players like Sebastian Rudy (Hoffenheim), Lasse Sobiech (Greuther Fürth) and Peniel Mlapa (Gladbach), meanwhile, all have 15 or more appearances for the Under-21s.
It remains to be seen if Germany can grab their second continental title at the under-21 level, but after a decent second-half, but they will be looking to build on their strong second half against the Dutch - despite the disappointing result.