Holland – (4-2-3-1) Stekelenburg – Heitinga, Ooijer, Mathijsen, Braafheid – De Jong, Schaars (Mendes Da Silva 82) – van der Vaart (Sneijder 46), Robben (Afellay 55), Kuyt (Huntelaar 78) – van Persie (Babel 46)
England – (4-4-2) Green – Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole (Bridge 84) – Beckham (Wright-Phillips 45), Lampard, Barry (Carrick 45), Young (Milner 67) – Rooney (Cole 59), Heskey (Defoe 45)
Much of the media attention prior to the game surrounded PFA Young Player of the Year Ashley Young who was handed his first start for England in place of the injured Steven Gerrard. Yet, at the final whistle, it would be three unlikely heroes who England would have to thank for turning the game on its head and salvaging a draw when the game had seemed beyond them.
As both teams took to the field, referee Nicola Rizzoli signalled a minutes applause as a mark of respect for the late Sir Bobby Robson who passed away at the end of last month. As the minutes applause came to an end, England got the game underway. After a relatively uneventful opening, the game sprung into life in the 10th minute as Holland took the lead. The usually reliable Rio Ferdinand received the ball from Frank Lampard just outside the England penalty area and attempted to pass the ball back to Robert Green. Unfortunately for England, Ferdinand’s pass was grossly under hit and was intercepted by Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt who, having initially been forced wide by the advancing Green, cut back inside beyond the England keeper and fired a scuffed effort past John Terry who had managed to get back on to the line.
As the game resumed, England began to retain possession as they looked for an equaliser. In the 19th minute, David Beckham, back from international wilderness, played a clever ball into the feet of Glen Johnson on the edge of the Holland penalty area. Johnson then played a delicate through-ball into the path of the advancing Frank Lampard who struck fiercely at goal only for his effort to strike the body of the well positioned Maarten Stekelenburg. England were beginning to gain a territorial advantage somewhat penning Holland into their own half, and in the 25th minute came a moment of controversy when a clever Gareth Barry backheel was seemingly handled by Nigel De Jong inside the Holland penalty area. Unfortunately for England, referee Rizzoli took the view that it was unintentional and waved away England’s protests for a penalty.
At the other end, Holland continued to look dangerous on the break and in the 30th minute, a wicked free-kick from captain Rafael van der Vaart was met by the head of Kuyt only for his effort to be well saved at the near post by Green. Despite some decent possession and encouraging efforts, in the 38th minute England again hit the self-destruct button. This time, the usually dependable Barry attempted to play the ball to Terry. Again, the pass was too close to Robben who collected the ball and advanced towards the England goal. With only Green to beat, Robben fired his effort at the legs of the England keeper but the rebound fell to van der Vaart who coolly slotted home into an empty net.
At half-time, England made three changes replacing Beckham, Barry and Emile Heskey with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe. Holland made two substitutions replacing Robin van Persie and van der Vaart with Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel.
In the 49th minute, England were able to claw their way back into the game thanks to a fantastic goal from substitute Defoe. As the ball bounced towards Lampard in midfield, he played a looping ball over top which Defoe was able to latch onto it. There was still work to do as the Tottenham man held off the challenge of three Dutch defenders before slotting the ball past Stekelenburg and in off the post. In the 55th minute Ibrahim Affelay replaced the lively Arjen Robben in an attempt to inject some life into a Holland team who, with the exception of Ryan Babel and Wesley Sneijder, were looking increasingly jaded.
On 58 minutes, Carlton Cole replaced Wayne Rooney and provided a new focal point for the England attack. But just minutes later, the pacey Babel robbed Carrick and advanced towards the England goal. Fortunately for England he was unable to strike the ball cleanly and dragged his shot wide. In the 68th minute James Milner replaced the disappointing Young to make his senior debut although international football is nothing new to Milner, having won a record 46 caps with England at U-21 level.
Almost immediately, the substitutes almost carved out an England equaliser. The impressive Cole, who was bullying the Dutch back-line with his power, fed Milner on the left wing – the Aston Villa winger cut back onto right before whipping the ball into the area where it was met by the head of Defoe who headed over the bar. England were well on top now and in the 69th minute, Lampard sliced a through ball to Cole who flicked the ball over his marker, flicked it over him again and then stuck a left-footed half volley just wide of the post.
The equaliser finally came in the 77th minute when Cole played a looping ball out to the left wing to Milner. As the ball bounced, John Heitinga failed to clear and Milner headed the ball forwards towards the Dutch goal. As he advanced, he composed himself and slid the ball across the face of the goal where it was met by the predatory Defoe who applied the simplest of finishes. Immediately after the equalising goal, Kuyt was replaced by new Milan signing Klass Jan Huntelaar. However, it was substitute Milner who looked the more dangerous and in the 10 minutes from the end his left wing cross was just too high for Cole and was gathered gratefully by Stekelenburg.
Stijn Shaars was replaced by David Mendes Da Silva and two minutes later Ashley Cole was replaced by former Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge, as the game threatened to petter out in the latter stages. But a minute before the 90 were up, Babel picked up the ball on the left and drove towards the England penalty area. In an effort to halt his run, Johnson attempted the tackle and lunged at Babel bringing him down just on the edge of the area. Sneijder stepped up to take the free-kick but his strike deflected off the England wall and out for a corner.
As the final whistle brought the game to a close, Fabio Capello would have the opportunity to reflect on a night of mistakes from some of his more senior players and some sparkling performances from some of his fringe players. Namely Carlton Cole, James Milner and man-of-the-match Jermain Defoe, all of whom remaining ever-hopeful of securing a seat on the plane to South Africa.
August 12, 2009 – 19:45 – Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam
Holland 2-2 England – Kuyt 10, van der Vaart 38 – Defoe 49, 77