In the seventies, Holland was the very breeding ground of footballing revolution. Born at Ajax was the concept of Total Football; a style and phenomenon espousing the fantastic and fluid idealism of Rinus Michels, perhaps the games greatest technician. It was under the all-conquering thumb of Total Football, with its interactivity and panache, its fluidity and excitement, that Holland won a seemingly-eternal place in the hearts and tactical forethought of a continent. Holland are Total Football. Total Football is Holland. What transpired in Kharkiv this evening challenged this most sacred of ideals.
Furthermore, the very concept of Total Football, and its extreme affinity only with the Dutch, was the very defining foundation of a famous hatred. The rivalry felt between the Dutch and the Germans is as intense as any on the planet, and such animosity can be traced back to intrinsic character and style differences. It is the quintessential clash of methodologies, the classic incompatibility of polarising identities. Forever, it has been believed that Holland are fresh, clean, artistic, ethical. Forever, too, it has been believed that Germany are methodical, efficient, clinical, stubborn. Such contrasting cultures and perceptions formed the very base of the scintillating animosity between the nations. Added, of course, are the classic hallmarks of any mutual dislike between neighbours, giving off a miasma of deep and lasting enmity.
This is why defeat in Ukraine will be more galling than most. Not only did the Dutch lose to their greatest foe, but they were defeated by a successful and seamless implementation of the style which once so defined them. Questions will be asked, and answers searched for. However, one resounding fact remains, that Germany defeated Holland at their own game.
Such a dramatic and evident role reversal is shocking and, naturally, evokes great frustration and anger in Holland. Where once they were a team awash with the unearthly talents of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, deeming necessary a system of freedom-consent and expression, Holland have, at a consistent-yet-slow pace, morphed into what they so hated in the German style. Whereas once Holland were a team of flair and verve, of breath-taking spontaneity and energy, they are now a team which attempts, often poorly, to imitate German pragmatism. Dislike of quintessential German characteristics has, over time, devolved into mirroring of quintessential German characteristics.
On the other-hand, the ascension to supremacy of Coach Joachim Loew has, in Germany, ignited a diversely well-rounded approach to football. He has instilled a remit to not only pertain, when so required, that ruthless efficiency, but also to endorse an expansive, fluid, beautiful brand of attack. Germany, arguably, have, in this era, drawn up their own concept of Total Football, with certain sprinklings of success-inducing custom and tradition. The national side of Germany has, too, instilled the ideals which, once, formed the very basis of their Dutch hatred. In this oxymoronic world, the ascendancy is now undoubtedly with the Germans.
That much was evident in Kharkiv. The midfield entrusted by Loew to implement this evolving blueprint was breath-taking. In Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany have one of the most intelligent footballing strategists of the modern era. His is a relentless and resoundingly-effective role. With an innate and natural ease, The Brain floats around the field, linking play, moving the ball, inspiring new ideas and creating new, colourful dreams of midfield spirituality. In tandem with, Sami Khedira, a trojan with all manner of midfield tools, and, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez, interchangeable parts of flare and virtue, Schweinsteiger patrols and dictates Germany's modern take on Total Football.
With Schweinsteiger roaming and ticking, Khedira running and probing, Gomez ready and lurking, the Germans were like a wasp in a small room, buzzing and buzzing the occupant into a state of dejection. Whilst Holland relied on a thoroughly-German-looking pragmatic defensive axis of Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel, so restricting their own attacking capability, Germany were under no such draconian responsibility. They were spontaneous and alert. They were mobile and quick. Though it pains me, as an Englishman, to admit it, they were brilliant.
The goals which, ultimately, converted performance into win, were suitably fantastic. Firstly Mario Gomez swiveling, as first touch, upon a squirted and measured pass of magnificence from the boot of Schweinsteiger, before finishing with a ease and conviction. There was, even in this, echoes of a prior Dutch era. Gomez' first goal was Bergkamp-esque.
A similar pattern of play led, again, to the German second. Schweinsteiger, with utter proficiency and artistry, sliding in a slicing and monumental pass, onto which Gomez ran with a relaxation and swagger to drive home a wonderful shot. Did not the concept of Total Football similarly dissect and carve International defenses with such poignant ease?
Yet, for us English, there remains a glimmer of hope. In the second half, Van Marwijck, aware of his identity betrayal, sacrificed a holding midfielder for Rafael Van Der Vaart, a move which instantly changed the momentum of the game. Holland, through the individual magnificence of Robin Van Persie, even scored. It is this modicum of comfort which we, as devout England fans, must salvage from this eye-opening realisation. Of course, we can still beat them, or so we like to think. However, in the modern era of Joachim Loew's Total Football II, it would be one hell of a game.