ENGLAND 2, HOLLAND 3
The post Capello England era began with a defeat for England at the hands of Holland at Wembley.
Caretaker manager Stuart Pearce can hardly have reinforced his claims for the job on a permanent basis as the build up to the finals of Euro 2012 continued with a display which was unconvincing until they produced a late flourish.
After a lukewarm opening period, the match exploded to life in a thrilling second period.
Holland looked to have secured victory through goals from Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as they were 2-0 ahead in the 85th minute.
England produced a stunning recovery to draw level through strikes from Gary Cahill and Ashley Young only for Robben to conjure a spectacular and dramatic stoppage-time winner.
The composition of the England team was very much centred on Manchester reflecting on the domestic supremacy of the city in English football.
There were seven players – four City, three United – in the starting line up with a further three on the bench.
Indeed, Pearce gravitated towards the North West which contributed nine players. That would have been ten but for Cahill’s recent move from Bolton to Chelsea.
Holland, meanwhile, fielded all their big guns including van Persie, Sneijder, de Jong, Robben and van Bommel making this a robust test against the reigning World Cup runners-up.
England made a bright start as Leighton Baines’ teasing cross almost looped in while Cahill glanced a header wide.
Joe Hart was the first keeper called into action beating out an angled shot from Robben.
England had a great chance midway through the opening half when Adam Johnson cut in from the right only to see his goalbound shot deflect off the rear of John Heitinga and fly just wide.
Steven Gerrard was substituted in the 33rd minutes as he had picked up a knock and his replacement Daniel Sturridge almost created a goal with an electrifying burst moments after his introduction.
England were putting a steady stream of crosses into the box, but nobody was able to apply a finish which was largely down to solid defending by the visitors.
Sturridge was proving to be England liveliest attacking player and shortly after the restart brought a fine save from Maarten Stekelenburg low to his right.
Holland snatched the lead in the 57th minute with a wonder goal from Robben, though England won’t be proud of their defending.
The former Chelsea man set off on a weaving run from 20 yards inside his own half and, with the England defence retreating, he kept going to the edge of the box before walloping a shot low to the left of Hart.
And barely one minute later, England were reeling again as Holland doubled their advantage when Huntelaar headed a Dirk Kuyt right-wing cross into the roof of the net.
It was Huntelaar’s last piece of action as there was a sickening clash of heads with Chris Smalling who was knocked clean out and left the field on a stretcher while the Dutch striker looked to have broken his nose.
England ought to have opened their account midway through the half when substitute Stewart Downing volleyed wide with the goal inviting.
And it just wasn’t England’s night when Sturridge had an open goal after running on to Baines’ cross but could only fire straight at Stekelenburg from six yards.
England did find a route to goal, however, from an unlikely source as Cahill joined the attack after a powerful forward burst before cutting inside an opponent and confidently slipping a shot under the body of the advancing Stekelenburg.
And that lifted Pearce’s players as Phil Jones set up Young who lofted the ball over Stekelenburg just as the fourth official had posted four minutes of stoppages as suddenly it was 2-2 and England were seemingly back from the dead.
If England thought they had avoided defeat they were mistaken as moments later Robben produced a piece of magic to curl home a majestic winner as the Dutch showed the resilience and class which makes them one of the world’s top footballing nations.