KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- Johan Cruyff first ascended the international pinnacles at Wembley in 1971, as a member of the Ajax team who won the club’s first European Champions Cup, against Panathinaikos; now Wembley has remembered one of the greatest footballers of the modern era of the game.
Cruyff’s portrait was portrayed on giant screens, shining through the rain, for the crowds to see as they splashed up Empire Way through the rain before England’s 2-1 defeat in a Euro 2016 warm-up against a Dutch side whose next competitive focus is not in France but in the qualifying challenge for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Later a further portrait of Cruyff was beamed out inside the stadium, at the 14th minute in memory of his favourite number as a player — though one of his most notable triumphs at Wembley had been as a coach when he guided Barcelona to their first European Champions’ crown against Sampdoria in 1992.
Wembley did stand for a perfectly-observed one-minute silence before kick-off but that was for the victims of the Brussels and other terrorist outrages. Cruyff’s picture-memory was reserved for that 14th minute while the action carried on. Thus football honoured one of its own in the prosaically appropriate way, by playing the game he loved, taught and graced.
England manager Roy Hodgson had promised changes after the exciting 3-2 win against world champions Germany in Berlin last Saturday. Fraser Forster kept his place in goal after his injuries-aided promotion from third choice with Spurs’ Kyle Walker and Everton’s John Stones replacing Nathaniel Clyne and Gary Cahill in the back four.
Danny Drinkwater and stand-in captain James Milner took over in defensive midfield with Jamie Vardy, Ross Barkley and Daniel Sturridge all starting in attack.
Holland had slightly the better of the opening exchanges. Coach Danny Blind had observed the lessons of England’s approach in Germany and encouraged his tightly-organised team to launch into a high tempo from the start.
Danny Rose was fortunate not to concede an early penalty about bundling over Ibrahim Afellay then, just after the Cruyff tribute minute, the Stoke midfielder contributed the first goal effort of the game with a shot which Forster grasped at second attempt.
Forster was in action again in the 26th minute, leaping to his left to push around the post a drive from Georginio Wijnaldum.
England had to wait another 12 minutes for their own first serious effort, when a low 25-yard drive from Barkley skidded wide of Jeroen Zoet’s left-hand upright.
Up to the 40th minute England had struggled to put their game together. Then, suddenly, it all clicked. A superb inter-passing move clmaxed with Walker crossing short from the right and Vardy shooting home his first goal at Wembley for England.
Four minutes after the interval and Holland were level. No escape this time for Rose. His right hand blocked an attempted cross from substitute Luciano Narsingh and Vincent Janssen put away the penalty.
Janssen, top scorer for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league, should have scored a minute earlier but, presented a near-open goal by Stones, he was foiled by Forster at point-blank range.
From this point on the game began to deteriorate. Holland continued threatening to embarrass England for whom Theo Walcott’s arrival brought a tactical adjustment. Walcott sought to take his opportunity but fired over the bar before Harry Kane joined the attacking fray.
Instead it was Holland, not England, who scored the next goal. Janssen escaped down the left, pushed off the newly-arrived Phil Jagielka, and Narsingh had an easy task tapping his cross home at the far post.
England protested en masse about Janssen’s foul in the build-up but Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz was having none of it and Enfkand thus succumbed to their first home defeat since 2013 . . . and against opponents they had not defeated since a famous evening at Euro 96.
England: Forster – Walker, Smalling (Jagielka 70), Stones, Rose (Clyne 58) – Drinkwater (Dier 85), Milner (Alli 82) – Vardy, Barkley, Lallana (Kane 70) – Sturridge (Walcott 58). Manager: Hodgson
Holland: Zoet – Veltman, Bruma, Daley Blind, Willems (Van Aanholt 82) – Bazoer (Van Ginkel 78), Wijnaldum, Afellay – Promes (Narsingh 37), Janssen, Depay. Coach: Danny Blind.
Referee: Mateu Lahoz (Sp). Attendanxe: 82,835. Yellow card: Bruma.