June 13, 2012
Dutch on death's door
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
KHARKIV, UKRAINE - Mario Gomez wanted to pound his chest.
Or do a little jig.
Or go sliding on his knees with his head looking up at the heavens.
In the end, he wanted to morph into any one of those silly celebrations soccer players do when they score a goal, which Gomez had just done to give the Germans a 2-0 lead over rival Netherlands.
Then he thought the better of it.
"I was going to do something but then I looked up and saw a wall of orange in the stands," he said. "I didn't want to provoke anyone."
Indeed, after beating goalie Martin Stekelenberg for the second time in the first half, Gomez realized that he was staring directly at the legion of raucous Dutch supporters who occupied that entire corner of Metalist Stadium like a giant orange blanket.
No reason to peeve them any further, was there?
Hadn't he done enough damage?
Besides, it isn't Gomez or the rival Germans the loyal Orange nation is miffed at right now.
No, the target of their wrath is their own Dutch team.
Despite a valiant effort to come back from a two-goal halftime deficit, the Dutch, showing the type of heart many observers didn't think they had, fell just one goal shy in a 2-1 decision that went the way of their German rivals Wednesday.
A Robin van Persie goal midway through the second half caused the throng of orange-clad Netherlanders at Metalist Stadium to go bonkers with the hopes that a comeback was in the works.
Alas, it wasn't.
The German victory put Die Mannschaft atop Group D with six points. Portugal and Denmark have three while the Dutch, shockingly, have zip.
The Dutch aren't mathematically dead in the Group of Death. But the last rites are being prepared.
Holland plays Portugal in its final group game Sunday while the Germans meet Denmark. Those games will determine which two advance to the final 16.
For the Dutch, it seems a steep, albeit not impossible, hill to climb.
When the final whistle sounded, German goalie Manuel Neuer picked up the blue towel at the back of his goal and waved it several times in the direction of the Dutch fans, as if to bid them adieu.
The euphoric German fans in the stands did him one better. They mocked the Dutch team by breaking out in deafening chants of "Auf Wiedersehen, Auf Wiedersehen ..."
The English translation: "Goodbye, goodbye."
Netherlands was actually the better team for chunks of the game. But de Oranje were twice sliced open by Germany's dynamic duo of Gomez and Bastien Schweinsteiger, roommates with the national team and teammates with Bayern Munich.
On both of the goals, Schweinsteiger split the seam between Dutch defenders with perfect passes that found the magical boot of Gomez.
"We sensed they had a weakness in the middle of the defence and we wanted to exploit it," German manager Joachim Loew said.
It was a game plan that was followed to perfection.
"I know exactly how he plays," Gomez said of Schweinsteiger. "He gets me the ball exactly the way I like it."
Truth be told, the Germans have not been the dominant force in this tournament that many expected. In both of their victories, including a 1-0 triumph over Portugal on Saturday, they did not show the free-flowing offensive style that Loew preaches and actually faded in the respective second halfs.
You won't hear Loew complaining though. Not after his team upped its mark to 2-0 in the competition.
"We have two victories in the Group of Death," he said. "That is a good position to be in, no matter what it looked like."
Just ask the Dutch. They'd switch spots with the Germans in a heartbeat.
Instead, courtesy of Gomez, they are on the brink of going home to a bitter country that feels the team has let them down.
To date, it has done exactly that.