In a thrilling contest in Hamburg, the Netherlands beat Germany 2-4 in a UEFA 2020 qualifier.
Goals were flying in Germany as the hosts took the lead, then fell behind before equalising and finally being blown away by the Dutch. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Donyell Malen
An Arsenal coach once told Donyell Malen that he was overweight, if you can believe that. He left North London in 2017, joining PSV instead. Since then he’s gone from strength to strength and received a call-up for these internationals with the chance to make his debut. With his country 1-0 down, he was summoned to play in attack. His debut in a competitive game and a competitive moment.
Within a minute of his introduction, the Dutch were level. 10 minutes later they were ahead. But when the German’s pegged Netherlands back, Malen must have known he had to do more than just try hard. Manuel Neuer denied him a superb goal with a good save and he must have wondered if his moment was ever going to come. Minutes later, however, his great run off the ball meant that Gini Wijnaldum could square the ball to him, allowing him to calmly put the finishing touch on a glorious Dutch attack. Boom. 2-3.
After that he worked hard to defend his flank as well. But in the end it all comes back to the goal, it was a sublime finish. Malen’s timing and positioning in a difficult situation on his debut showed a maturity that could lead the 20-year-old to score many more times for his nation. Even if he never scores another, however, he’ll never forget scoring a winning goal on his debut. The stuff dreams are made of!
Loser: Daley Blind
Daley Blind was a prodigious talent for Ajax and the Netherlands when he was younger but even when he was at his ball-playing peak, questions about his athleticism persisted. As he has aged, he has begun hedging his bets more to make up for his lack of athletic ability and this has led to some unfortunate situations such as the first German goal today.
With the Dutch dominant in the game, Blind pushed up absurdly high to try and discourage a pass to Serge Gnabry, a player who Blind couldn’t hope to match in the open field. Of course this created a huge gap behind him and Joshua Kimmich pinged a magical laser of a pass into that gap, putting Lukas Klostermann through on goal.
Now, Jasper Cillessen saved excellently from Klostermann but the ball bounced out into a gap where Serge Gnabry, who Blind had pushed up to cut off but then couldn’t keep up with as both men raced after the Klostermann, appeared to slap the Germans into a shock lead. This goal gave the hosts confidence and a huge advantage and Blind got caught out on more than one more occasion as the match went on. The Dutch managed to outgun Germany tonight but Daley Blind is a weak spot that more ruthless side will expose in bigger games.
Winner: Serge Gnabry
Serge Gnabry was once loaned to West Brom and played so rarely that Arsenal recalled him in January. The Gunners didn’t play Gnabry enough so he sought a move abroad. Werder Bremen signed him for just £5m and after an impressive season with them he joined Bayern Munich for just €8m, who then loaned him to Hoffenheim for a year.
The point is, he wasn’t considered that white hot of a prospect. Except he’s been steadily improving since joining Bremen and at Bayern his game has come on in leaps and bounds to the point that, today, he was a guaranteed starter for Germany and a key part of their attack. He cut his teeth with the Olympic side, scoring six in six and becoming a Silver medallist.
No one expected he would do that at senior level, but, well, as of tonight he has scored 8 goals in 9 games. Gnabry is a perfect example of how players should never give up and that their career can take off at any moment. Gnabry was a constant danger to the Dutch tonight and most importantly his movement and sharp finishing is what set the match alight as he scored just nine minutes into the game.
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Why on earth is there no VAR in UEFA Euro 2020 qualification? The Dutch were cruising at 1-2 ahead until Germany picked up a penalty for a handball on Matthijs de Ligt. Except that was a travesty of a decision. First of all Schulz may have been offside when he was played through, and second of all when the ball struck De Ligt’s hand he had no idea where the ball was and his hand was by his side.
See, De Ligt had blocked the ball and, thinking it had gone out for a corner, simply stood up. By the time he realised the ball was still in play, it had already hit him. He wasn’t seeking to gain an advantage and in truth he didn’t really get one even if it did prevent his hand. It was a ludicrous call on two occasions and only highlighted the need for VAR to correct poor refereeing decisions.
Winner: Frenkie de Jong
Everyone knows how good Frenkie de Jong is at passing, the way he dominates the game and controls the tempo. His ability to do that for Ajax against all manner of opponent last season is why Barcelona signed him for €75m and UEFA voted him their midfielder of the year.
But now he’s at Barcelona and an established figure at the base of the Dutch midfield, people are going to start to want more. Already at Barcelona it’s clear that whilst he is delightfully metronomic at the base of midfield he can’t push the tempo quite like Sergio Busquets, so he has to play further forward. But when you do that, you have to offer some threat on goal.
Well today proved that Frenkie can both dominate the ball and still get forward to provide more. For the vast majority of the game, De Jong was his usual metronomic self. He kept the Dutch on the front foot and protected against most of the German attempts at a break, and then, when Ryan Babel’s cross was heading into an empty box, Frenkie pounced.
His first touch simultaneously killed the cross, left Nico Schulz in the dust and set the ball up for De Jong perfectly. His second touch lashed the ball into the net beyond what had looked like an invincible Manuel Neuer, pulling the Netherlands level with his first ever goal for the national team and changing the entire momentum of the match. After that he kept things moving and allowed the Dutch to pin their hosts back and eventually break them down through deep runs from midfield partner Gini Wijnaldum, winning the game.
Loser: Jogi Low
Joachim “Jogi” Low thought he had righted the ship. After a shocking run where they won just four times in 15 international games, Germany had won three in a row and were unbeaten in seven. They beat the Dutch in Amsterdam back in March with a last minute winner and had also won away in Belarus before whomping Estonia at home.
Tonight though, they were beaten by the Dutch – and that was just half the problem. They were outplayed by their visitors from basically start to finish. Low had opted to play on the break and for a while it seemed like a fairly smart idea to do given Daley Blind’s weaknesses, but as the game wore on it became clear that unless the Dutch opened up a massive passing lane for Germany to pass into, they were incapable of crafting a chance of significance themselves.
So Low lost, and lost in pretty emphatic fashion. He’s now been coaching Die Mannschaft since July 2006, that’s a reign of 13 years, and you have to wonder if he’s lost his ability to really set his side out in the kind of system that will see them able to dominate the ball and score goals that their opponents and referees don’t hand them on a platter.