16 June, 2006

Dutch Courage: Holland 2 Ivory Coast 1

Qualifiers from this group could be decided by this game, and having seen Argentina's imperious performance earlier today the Dutch will be keen to wrap things up with a victory here in Stuttgart.

The match opens cagily, with both sides careful not to expose themselves too much. It takes a set piece to bring the game to life after 23 minutes. Robin van Persie's powerful free kick glances off a defender and into the net.

The Ivory Coast attempt to respond by pushing forward but they leave a hole which the Dutch exploit to fashion another goal four minutes later, Ruud van Nistelrooy finishing clinically.

Their opponents are not beaten yet, however. They continue to press and get themselves into some strong positions well into the Dutch half. Didier Zokora hits the woodwork with a curling drive. At the other end Arjen Robben is booked for diving in the box. Holland are on the back foot and after 37 minutes Bakari Kone scores an individual goal and becomes the first man to put one past Edwin van der Saar in the Holland goal since October 2004.

The Ivorians suffer a blow when Didier Drogba is harshly booked, ruling him out of the final group game against Serbia, but unless they can get something out of this match the suspension is irrelevant. Their attack continues, and when half time arrives it is Holland who most welcome the break.

The Dutch make a pair of substitutions to freshen up the team, but the Ivory Coast continue to outplay them in the second half. Holland are forced to put men behind the ball and rarely get an opportunity to fashion an attack of their own, but the Ivorians struggle to get the ball through their opponents' newly defensive formation.

After half an hour they come close when a corner leads to a ball being cleared off the line by the chest of van Persie. A period of sustained pressure follows but the Dutch resistance is solid and the Ivory Coast become frustrated as the clock ticks down.

Holland finally manage a couple of attacks, but they fail to achieve anything more than keeping their opponents off the ball. This in itself is valuable at this stage, however, providing a welcome break from the onslaught. As the match moves into injury time the Ivory Coast launch a final series of attacks, but it is all in vain.

Such a defensive performance is not something we are used to seeing from any Holland side, but they have had little option against this opposition. They move on knowing that their final game is only to decide the group winner. The Ivory Coast, meanwhile, have acquitted themselves well and can count themselves unlucky to have landed in such a difficult group.

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