Was it worth it? | ANP Sport/Getty ImagesIs Spain versus the Netherlands really the illustrious international fixture it once was if a 33-year-old Ryan Babel is brought on as a 79th minute substitute?
The introduction of the former Liverpool man 11 minutes for time somewhat summed up proceedings in Wednesday’s clash between two traditional giants of European football, which could not have been more of a behind closed doors international friendly if it tried.
The substitution to inspire change? | ANP Sport/Getty ImagesNetherlands versus Spain was billed as the headline act on the international break that nobody wanted.
It is a fixture that radiates international gravitas.
Spain – the former world champions who Tiki-taka-ed their way to world domination in the space of four remarkable years with Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa and co.
The Netherlands – Total Football, Johan Cruyff, the infectiously fun side from Euro 2008, Arjen Robben, Wesley Schneider, Robin van Persie.
But reputation can come before a team, particularly in international football. This is a Dutch side who failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments and are currently managed by Crystal Palace’s finest Frank de Boer.
Babel could not offer the spark the game was crying out for | ANP Sport/Getty ImagesSpain and Holland produced a drab 1-1 draw in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening. It was not the most underwhelming match the pair had ever put on – 2010’s World Cup final where the Dutch attempted to take chunks out of Spain for 120 minutes is the clear winner on that front – but it was not the football feast fans would come to expect from a game featuring two of European football’s traditional powerhouses.
While playing behind closed doors has largely resulted in utter chaos and carnage in the Premier League – a 7-2 here, a 6-1 there – with players playing with a freedom and without inhibition, the lack of crowd appeared to suck any intensity out of Wednesday’s clash.
Spain were much the better team in the first half and sliced the Netherlands open with a couple of flowing moves from the back, one of which resulted in Sergio Canales opening the scoring following Alvaro Morata’s perfectly weighted through ball.
But there was still a lack of zip in the final third. Spain should have been home and dry after their first half dominance, but De Boer made four changes at the break and the Netherlands went on to enjoy the better of the second 45.
Spain led inside 20 minutes | ANP Sport/Getty ImagesThe Dutch were level after 47 minutes as Spain failed to deal with Owen Wijndal’s cross from the left and Donny van de Beek was on hand to hammer the ball home.
Much like Spain in the first half, the Dutch dominated the second 45 but failed to add a second goal. There was no urgency as both Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay dithered in front of goal instead of striking the ball first time when presented with golden opportunities.
Super sub Babel failed to have the devastating impact that he had been brought on to deliver, as the game petered out.
The officials couldn’t even be bothered to add on any extra time despite the seven second half substitutes and fans were left wondering – as they likely will throughout most of this international break – whether it was all really worth it.