England V Holland
29 Feb 2012 - 8:00 PM
An absorbing second-half of football at Wembley produced five goals, three of them for Holland, as Stuart Pearce’s big night as England Caretaker Manager ended in a cruel, cruel defeat.
A 90th-minute chip from Ashley Young appeared to have handed England a 2-2 draw, but former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben popped up just moments later to curl home his second goal of the night and give the 2010 World Cup runners-up a late victory.
Robben fired Holland ahead in the 57th-minute, finishing of a clinical counter-attacking move, and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, on for Robin van Persie at half-time, thundered home a header just moments later to make it 2-0, but clashed heads with Chris Smalling in the process.
Gary Cahill pulled a goal back for an improving England in the 85th minute when he calmly finished from inside the box and Young clipped the ball over Maarten Stekelenburg in the last minute to seemingly earn England a draw.
But there was still enough time for Robben to inflict defeat on England with one final swing of his left foot, though the ball did appear to take a deflection on the way in.
It should not concern England fans too much, though, as their relatively young side, led by Scott Parker, produced a more than competent display against a very strong Dutch side. They created plenty of chances to take the lead before Holland went ahead and enjoyed decent spells of possession throughout. They also almost mounted an unlikely comeback before Robben had the final say in added time.
In a bright opening, Leighton Baines over hit a cross in the second minute which had Stekelenburg scrambling and the ball dipped just over the bar.
Tottenham midfielder Parker was handed the captain’s armband by Pearce before the game and, as if to justify his selection, three times in the opening 20 minutes he prevented his team from going behind.
His first duty as England captain was to thwart van Persie on the edge of the box as the Arsenal man pounced on a loose pass from Gareth Barry and surged forward. Then Parker bravely blocked Wesley Sneijder’s 20-yard drive before a sliding tackle on van Persie stopped the forward from having a shot inside the box.
England started well and were just inches away from going ahead when Cahill headed over the bar from Young’s in-swinging corner.
Holland then enjoyed a decent spell of possession, with Sneijder predictably at the heart of proceedings, though it was Robben who had the visitors’ first shot on target, jinking his way past right-back Micah Richards before calling Hart into action at his near post.
Although both sides displayed some good passing moves, the goalmouth action dried up somewhat until a mazy dribble from Adam Johnson saw the winger cut in from the right, past Pieters and onto his favoured left foot, but his shot hit Everton defender John Heitinga and only narrowly zipped past the far post.
An injury to Steven Gerrard just after the half-hour mark brought Daniel Sturridge from the bench and caused a slight change to the formation with Young occupying Gerrard’s role in the centre of midfield, Johnson taking Young’s place on the left and Sturridge going out to the right.
Eventual Vauxhall man of ther match Sturridge was straight into the action, bursting forward past Erik Pieters and laying the ball across the six-yard box where Khalid Boulahrouz was required to clear. The last action of the half was brought about by some good work by Johnson when he delivered a right-foot cross towards Young who headed over.
Just a couple of minutes after the restart Sturridge showed some neat footwork to control Young’s corner and drag the ball past Huntelaar, allowing him to get a shot away, although Stekelenburg got down well to parry.
Huntelaar then had a sighter which he thumped just wide, before Holland took the lead. Nigel De Jong robbed Danny Welbeck of possession inside the Dutch half and fed Robben, who burst forward in familiar fashion. His speed made him hard to catch and Huntelaar’s decoy run across the area pulled England’s two centre-backs apart, making room for Robben to fire past Hart.
It was 2-0 just two minutes later, but, more worryingly for England, Smalling was horribly injured in the build-up. The ball was worked out to the right wing where Kuyt delivered a delicious cross which Huntelaar, renowned for his aerial ability, headed home with aplomb. But he clashed heads with Smalling in jumping for the ball, ultimately causing both players to go off and the Manchester United defender came off far worse in the dual.
After a lengthy delay, and a couple of England substitutions, the game restarted and James Milner, a half-time change for Barry, crossed to the far post to Downing, on for Johnson, who volleyed narrowly past the far upright.
Smalling’s horrible-looking injury caused a reshuffle in the England defence with Phil Jones coming on for his United team-mate, but occupying Richards’ right-back berth. Richards moved into the centre and he was called into action just moments later when blocking Robben’s latest effort.
But gradually England stirred and started to come back into the game. They increased the tempo and should have pulled a goal back through an unmarked Sturridge in the 73rd minute. He was picked out by Baines at the far post, but the Chelsea man didn’t connect properly and shot tamely with the goal at his mercy.
Cahill did reduce arrears five minutes from time when Baines slipped a through ball to the centre-back and he coolly found the back of the net.
The comeback appeared to be complete when Young was played through by Jones to clip the ball over Stekelenburg and into the far corner, to send the majority of the 76,000 fans inside Wembley wild.
But there was still enough time for one last Holland attack and for Robben to win it for the Dutch.