The Netherlands and Germany faced off in the UEFA Under-21 Championships Thursday in what was the first appearance for either squad since last claiming the title. It was as tight an affair as expected, as Germany pulled off a thrilling second-half comeback only to fall 3-2 to an added-time goal at HaMoshava Stadium in Petah Tikva.
The Netherlands got things started early with some pressure on Germany’s back line, forcing keeper Bernd Leno to get into the flow of the match from the onset. In the 11th minute, it was Leno that kept the Netherlands from taking an early lead with a tremendous save on an attempt off the foot of an unmarked Adam Maher.
Leno looked to be in prime form to begin the contest, but it didn’t take long for things to unravel.
In the 24th minute, Maher got another opportunity to slide one past Leno, and he didn’t miss the chance, per BetVictor:
It wasn’t a great effort from Leno, and given the cohesiveness of the Netherlands' forwards on the attack, it looked like Germany’s defense was in for a long day.
The Germans returned the action to the other end of the pitch following Maher’s goal, but it wouldn’t be long before the Netherlands saw another solid opportunity at sneaking one by Leno.
Maher sent a perfectly-placed through ball to Luuk de Jong, who found his way behind Germany’s defense, per TNC Bundesliga:
Leno made another quality save to keep the Netherlands from extending its lead, but it was clear the Germans were playing on their heels for much of the early going.
And in the 40th minute, the Netherlands further proved that point.
With a quick move to the inside to beat two German defenders, Georginio Wijnaldum sent a stinger toward Leno from 20 yards out that appeared to have been saved by the keeper. Leno’s effort wasn’t quite enough, however, as the ball trickled over the line for a massive 2-0 lead for the Netherlands.
Ori Cooper tweeted a photo of the well-deserved celebration for Wijnaldum and his side, then holding what looked to be an insurmountable lead against a tremendous German squad:
Both Maher and Wijnaldum took some shots from their German counterparts in the ensuing minutes, a clear sign of frustration on the part of Germany. It was a difficult half as the Netherlands were clearly the more dominant squad in the first 45.
In the first frame, the Netherlands held a big advantage in possession (55 percent), shots on target (4-1) and aerial success, and in this particular case, the statistics told the whole story. Germany would have to play much better in the second half to have any chance of making a comeback.
The German side came out firing in the second half, though, and just four minutes into the frame, it got one back with a tremendous penalty strike off the foot of Sebastian Rudy, finding the top corner over the strong effort of Jeroen Zoet, per 101 Great Goals:
With that goal, Germany pulled within striking distance of the Dutch side and gained a considerable amount of momentum in a match that was otherwise slipping away. As Dutch Football noted on Twitter, the German side looked like a new squad to start the second half:
The Netherlands would continue to get scoring opportunities despite the added pressure from the Germans, but its 2-1 advantage would hold firm in the ensuing minutes, per TNC Bundesliga:
The action certainly intensified in the second half, though, as both squads opened things up in the final third. As good as the Netherlands’ attack looked in the first frame, it wasn’t enough to keep Germany on its heels in the second 45.
A big part of Germany’s second-half turnaround can be credited to midfielder Lewis Holtby, who, as noted by Addicted to Spurs, played tremendously throughout the contest:
But even with several quality scoring opportunities in the closing minutes (including a 68th-minute strike off the bar from Kevin Volland), Germany was unable to capitalize on its momentum. It would take until the 86th minute for the Germans to break through. And of course, it was Holtby to do the damage, as Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph pointed out:
With both a goal and an assist in the second half, the midfielder brought Germany from the throes of defeat in the final minutes and appeared to have given Germany new life in the Group B chase for a championship. All the Germans would have to do is hold the Netherlands scoreless for seven more minutes.
Unfortunately for Holtby and the German side, Leroy Fer had other ideas, and in the second minute of added time, headed a beautifully struck Marco van Ginkel set piece into the top corner to give Netherlands a 3-2 lead. As the final minute expired, Germany was left to watch its championship aspirations take a critical blow.
With the win, the Netherlands took an early lead in the Group B standings, relegating Germany to the bottom where it will find it difficult to overtake Spain and Russia. The Germans are set to take on the former on Day 2 of the championship round.
The Netherlands picked up much-needed points with the win and look ahead to a match with Russia on Day 2. They round out Group play on Day 3 with what should be a tremendous showdown with Spain.