Arjen Robben scored a stoppage-time winner as the Netherlands survived a late England comeback to triumph 3-2 at Wembley and send a warning across the continent ahead of UEFA EURO 2012.
In a game which only came to life in the second half, the Dutch netted twice in quick succession after half-time, through a brilliant Robben solo strike and substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s header, but were pegged back when the hosts struck late via Gary Cahill and Ashley Young. Robben was not to be denied, though, and the winger curled home the winning goal in injury time.
England caretaker manager Stuart Pearce brought an end to days of speculation when he announced his starting line-up, as Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Scott Parker was named England captain for the night on just his 11th appearance in national colours.
Micah Richards, so often overlooked during the reign of Fabio Capello, was brought back into the fold at right-back while Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck took the place of injured club team-mate Wayne Rooney in an XI which mixed youth and experience.
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk opted against an experimental side from the beginning, instead keeping faith with nine of the 11 players that started in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final defeat by Spain.
While it was the visitors who settled into their passing rhythm quickest, with Wesley Sneijder in particular dropping deep to dictate possession, it was England who created the brighter early openings. First Leighton Baines troubled Maarten Stekelenburg with a mishit cross which clipped the back of the upright on its way out of play, then centre-back Cahill guided a header narrowly over from a Young corner.
Sneijder was twice given too much time and space at the edge of England’s 18-yard box, which resulted in the Dutch testing home goalkeeper Joe Hart for the first time in the 14th minute. After the playmaker’s effort from a central position was blocked rapidly by Parker, the Netherlands claimed the ball back and Sneijder found Robben, who drilled a shot towards goal but was denied by Manchester City’s No1.
Kuyt close to mistake
Dirk Kuyt, who was a goalscorer as Liverpool lifted the League Cup at the same stadium three days previously, was almost left embarrassed by a poor backpass but Stekelenburg was smartly off his line to thwart the onrushing Welbeck. Adam Johnson attempted to work the away goalkeeper again moments later but saw his right-footed effort deflect away for a corner as the Three Lions tried to build momentum.
England’s hopes were checked on the half-hour mark by an injury to Steven Gerrard, who was replaced by Daniel Sturridge. The Chelsea forward made an immediate impact on his second opportunity to shine for the hosts, taking on and beating opposition full-back Erik Pieters but finding nobody in the area to convert his cross. It was the last real action of an opening half which saw little in the way of chances and the sides went in goalless at half-time.
Pearce made a single change when the match resumed, with James Milner coming off the bench in place of City team-mate Gareth Barry. Van Marwijk, meanwhile, made a double switch at the break, as Huntelaar and Stijn Schaars replaced Robin van Persie and Pieters.
Sturridge continued to be an effective outlet for England and he tested Stekelenburg three minutes into the second period. Young’s corner was not cleared properly and it fell to the 22-year-old, who shuffled past his marker but could only fire a snapshot straight at the Roma goalkeeper. Huntelaar, eager to impress ahead of EURO 2012, struck from distance but was wide of the goal from 20 yards.
The Netherlands did not have to wait much longer to take the lead, however. Robben picked up a loose ball in the middle of his own half and set off on a pacy, driving run as the home side struggled to make a challenge. The Bayern Munich winger took full advantage of the freedom he was allowed, arrowing a finish into the far corner through Chris Smalling’s legs and past Hart’s dive on 57 minutes.
A touch of Klaas
Within seconds, the Dutch had doubled their lead after an outstanding piece of play from the substitute Huntelaar. The Schalke striker spread play out to Kuyt on the right wing and headed straight for England’s penalty area. Kuyt’s drifted cross back in was perfectly weighted for Huntelaar, who powered a header past Hart having shown bravery to beat Smalling in the air.
Both players were injured in the clash and were taken off after a short period of medical attention. FC Twente striker Luuk De Jong replaced Huntelaar while Phil Jones came on at right-back to allow Richards to take over from Smalling in central defence. Stewart Downing also joined the action, in place of Johnson, and the Liverpool winger hit a first-time volley slightly wide as England searched for a rapid response.
England could, and should, have halved their arrears in the 73rd minute and it was bright spark Sturridge who was left rueing a lack of concentration. Baines was allowed to make inroads into the Netherlands area and his cross found an onside Sturridge at the back post, but he completely failed to make a positive connection and the ball rolled softly into Stekelenburg’s hands.
The influential Sneijder was replaced by Urby Emanuelson and Khalid Boulahrouz went off to give Ron Vlaar a taste of the action. Pearce, aware of England’s need for a goal, gave Sunderland striker Fraizer Campbell his maiden international cap as Welbeck, who had little impact after several decent touches in the first half, departed.
When the hosts did score, however, it was a defender not a forward who found the net. Baines again dribbled forward down the left and his precise ball played in Cahill. The Chelsea centre-back looked to be offside but was allowed to continue and, after dribbling around the sliding Joris Mathijsen, placed a side-footed finish past Stekelenburg to give both Pearce and England hope with five minutes left on the clock.
Kuyt could have put the game beyond England when he was set up by a buzzing Robben, but his sharp shot from outside the area was straight at Hart. Theo Walcott came on for Sturridge and the Netherlands were made to pay for their profligacy as the game reached its climax. Downing made headway on the left and when his cross fell to Jones, the versatile youngster found Young with a clever ball and the latter dinked a sublime finish past Stekelenburg to level the scores at 2-2.
Robben, who had been a constant thorn in England’s side throughout the 90 minutes, had the final say, though. The home side again failed to clear their area sufficiently and Mark van Bommel shaped his body to lob a ball to Robben, who was free in the England area. After taking a touch to compose himself, the former Chelsea man picked a spot in the far corner to beat Hart and finally secure a dramatic victory for the Dutch.