Thursday, June 14
By Nick Ames in Kharkiv
By the time he’d found his range, it was well worth the wait - but it wasn’t enough.
Robin van Persie cut a dejected figure as he left the Metalist Stadium pitch in Kharkiv last night. His 73rd-minute goal, a cracking drive with that ‘chocolate leg’ of his, had hauled the Dutch back into contention against old rivals Germany, making amends for a couple of early opportunities that he might usually have gobbled up.
But the comeback was never realised, the Germans seeing the match out expertly to leave Bert van Marwijk’s side teetering on the brink of an ignominious group-stage exit.
In truth, the Dutch performance had gone completely awry after Mario Gomez put Germany ahead, slightly against the run of play, in the 24th minute. When he doubled that lead 14 minutes later, they looked well beaten.
Speaking in the mixed zone after the game, Dirk Kuyt suggested - in diplomatic terms, but with enough left hanging in the air - that the dressing room had been a turbulent place at half-time, and the body language of some players had certainly suggested a storm was brewing.
Spurred on by the tireless Van Persie - who might have opened his account sooner if Manuel Neuer hadn’t brilliantly saved a 58th minute snap-shot - and the mesmerising figure of Wesley Sneijder, they emerged with purpose after the break, but the damage had been done.
The Germans, and future Arsenal man Lukas Podolski, were deserving winners - tactically sound, with Gomez taking both goals excellently. Podolski himself put in a steady performance, working hard with Philippe Lahm to curtail the threat of Arjen Robben and curbing a few of his attacking instincts in the process.
Much earlier, when the teams came out to warm up before the game, Van Persie could be seen waiting for Per Mertesacker to emerge from the tunnel. The Arsenal team-mates shared a warm embrace and a few words before going their respective ways.
Per watched from the sidelines for a second consecutive game, Joachim Low continuing to field Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber at centre-back, but I spent a few minutes with him after the final whistle. Genial as ever, the popular Gunner talked about Lukas Podolski, his own situation and the fact that Germany’s work in Group B is not yet done. Keep an eye out for his thoughts during the day.
A draw against Denmark on Sunday would be enough to confirm Germany’s progress. Nicklas Bendtner’s brace looked to have earned the Danes a superb comeback point in yesterday’s early game before a late Portuguese winner left their hopes of qualifying in the balance.
Regardless of the outcome, I was pleased for Nicklas - he’d put in a selfless performance against the Dutch four days previously, and did the same this time around while taking the two chances that came his way. It’s been an impressive start to the tournament for the Arsenal front man, and I’ll be in Lviv on Sunday to find out whether he can help his side see the job through.
First, I’ll be in Kiev. This blog comes to you from one of the new, high-speed express trains that many suggested would not see the light of day by Euro 2012. Mine has been propelling me sleekly from Kharkiv - a city I shall certainly miss - since 6.30am, and shortly after alighting I’ll be attending England and Sweden’s press conferences ahead of tomorrow’s vital Group D encounter.
You don’t get a lot of sleep at a major tournament, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.
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