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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Heavyweights look ring rusty

By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

Michael Ballack and Edgar Davids challenge for the ball
Germany came close to upsetting Holland
Relaxed and sunny Porto may have been the venue but Tuesday's match between Holland and Germany was strictly a northern European affair.

Uefa let off thousands of balloons prior to kick-off but their message of goodwill was in short supply in a physical tussle between two bitter rivals.

No quarter was asked and none given in a match characterised by bruising tussles and a sheer will to gain any advantage over an age-old rival.

The amiable people of Porto were genuinely taken aback by the sea of orange that flooded their atmospheric city.

And if atmosphere was the order of the day there was no other place to be than Estadio do Dragao.

Neither national anthem could be heard above the whistles from the opposition supporters.

And once the action started it was the steel of Germany's organised formation that held the ascendancy.

Holland can boast more than their fair share of world class talent but did not manage a shot on target in the first half, while Torsten Frings gave Germany a first-half lead.

It took a predatory finish from Ruud van Nistelrooy nine minutes from time to ensure one of the favourites to win the tournament left the match with their pride intact and a point in the bag.

Fenerbahce striker Pierre van Hooijdoonk came on as a second-half substitute to lend Van Nistelrooy some much-needed support.

And the Fenerbahce striker was quick to point out afterwards that a vast improvement is needed if one of European football's perennial under achievers are not to leave Portugal wondering what went wrong once again.

Kevin Kuranyi and Jaap Stam
Rivalry was as fierce as expected
"The squad is full of quality but we have to play as a team," Van Hooijdonk told BBC Sport.

"You do not win tournaments only based on the name of the name of the players.

"We have to make sure that all the players hit top form and then we will be a tough opponent.

"It is difficult to say what is not clicking at the moment but I would love to see more chances for Ruud.

"He is a class player but you need to hurt the opposition team in their penalty box."

With both teams deploying just one forward it was a match that at times seemed based more on avoiding defeat that winning.

"Sometimes we go for safety first instead of putting a risky ball between the defence and the goalkeeper," added Van Hooijdonk.

"But it is all to do with confidence; if the players feel well then they attack more. We are not over confident after out last two friendly matches, against Belgium and the Republic of Ireland, which we lost."

After the first round of games many of the favourites have much to consider.

Portugal and England lost, Italy and Holland drew while France cannot rely on a miraculous escape in every game.

Holland mis-fired against their old foe and must hope that in their remaining games they can rise above the emotion of the occasion.

If they do not, Euro 2004's so-called group of death could claim a heavy casualty.





Links to more Euro 2004 stories


 

SEE ALSO
Germany 1-1 Holland
15 Jun 04 |  Euro 2004


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