One of international soccer’s greatest rivalries is renewed on Wednesday as the Netherlands host Germany in Amsterdam.
The last time the two sides met was as recently as this summer when Germany defeated the Netherlands 2-1 en route to the Dutch exiting at the group stage without mustering a single point. There can be little doubt that Germany are now a level above the Netherlands in the international pecking order.
The Dutch have rebounded positively from their dismal summer, though, under the stewardship, for the second time, of Louis van Gaal. After four games, the Netherlands have 12 points and have scored an impressive 13 goals with just two conceded.
Germany, semifinalists at the last two major tournaments and with a collection of players that are the envy of all but a select few nations, represent a step up in class for Van Gaal’s side.
While a meeting with Germany no longer holds the wider political significance, a meeting with one of the world’s true powerhouses represents an important barometer for the test.
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“It's probably more important than a qualification game," Arjen Robben said, according to Sports Illustrated, "Germany are a world-class team, whereas [two of their qualifying opponents] Estonia and Hungary aren't."
Van Gaal has very much been looking to promote youth during his early matches in charge, highlighted by making 22-year-old Kevin Strootman the stand-in captain for their two World cup qualifiers last month.
The likes of young defenders Ricardo van Rhijn and Bruno Martins Indi and midfielder Marco van Ginkel could receive an important early test in their international careers against a Germany side that are often scintillating going forward.
That attacking verve was shown to full effect last time out as Germany raced into a 4-0 lead over Sweden in World Cup qualifying. What happened next was stunning as the Swedes mounted an extraordinary recovery and Germany walked away with just a solitary point from a 4-4 draw.
While trying to bounce back from that ignominy, Joachim Low is faced with a long injury list. A total of nine players will be missing throughout the lineup. In defense Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Marcel Schmelzer are out while midfielders Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos are also unavailable. That is likely to mean a midfield partnership of the Bender brothers, Sven and Lars.
With Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose out, Low will likely choose between moving either Lukas Podolski or Marco Reus into a central striking role.
D: Van Rhiyn, Heitinga, Vlaar, Martins Indi
M: Van Ginkel, De Jongm Van der Vaart
F: Kuyt, Huntelaar, Robben
D: Howedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Lahm
M: L. Bender, S. Bender
Muller, Gotze, Reus
Prediction: With both sides featuring a number of changes, it will be difficult to read too much into the match’s outcome. But given Germany’s strength in depth, the Netherlands will still need to put on an impressive show to avoid a home defeat.
Both sides may ultimately settle for a draw.
Netherlands 2-2 Germany
Where to watch: The match kicks-off from the Amsterdam Arena at 2.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.