LONDON, (Reuters) – A stoppage-time winner from Arjen Robben ended Netherlands’ three-match run without a win as they beat England 3-2 in a largely low-key friendly with a dramatic twist in the tail at Wembley Stadium yesterday.
The match signalled the start of the countdown to both team’s preparations for this year’s Euro 2012, but the Dutch proved they were far more advanced by bouncing back from a 3-0 defeat by Germany to inflict England’s first loss in 10 matches
After a largely moribund hour the game sprang to life with two superbly-taken goals in two minutes from Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar after 57 and 59 minutes.
Gary Cahill and Ashley Young replied for an experimental and young England side in the last six minutes before Robben curled a shot past goalkeeper Joe Hart with the aid of a slight deflection to seal victory for the visitors.
It was the first time Hart had been on the losing side in 17 England appearances.
Robben broke the deadlock when he ran from 15 metres inside his own half, motoring past a helpless England midfield pulled out of position by Huntelaar’s decoy run to fire wide of Hart.
Almost immediately Huntelaar made it 2-0 when he converted a Dirk Kuyt cross with a powerful header into the roof of the net for his 31st goal in his 50th international, before clashing heads with defender Chris Smalling.
Their injuries prompted a lengthy delay during which both players were substituted and both ended the evening in hospital with cuts and bruising to their heads.
England, without a manager since Fabio Capello quit three weeks ago and with interim coach Stuart Pearce fielding an experimental team, showed spirit to fight back to 2-2 before a well-taken strike by Robben, playing only his second international since the World Cup final, sealed victory for the Dutch.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said he was delighted with the win.
“Any win is a good one after we lost 3-0 to Germany, but it was not a great match, although it had a spectacular second half and a thrilling ending,” he told reporters.
Pearce, with a number of senior internationals including Wayne Rooney missing, put his faith in youngsters like Danny Welbeck, and substitutes Daniel Strurridge and Fraizer Campbell, none of whom had started an England match in the past.
“Perhaps we lacked a little self-belief around their goal and were a bit naive at the end when we should have closed the match down, and its disappointing to lose. But we learnt a lot tonight, and that was the main thing,” Pearce told reporters.
Pearce has made no secret he does not feel ready to become the full time manager, with the position expected to be offered to Harry Redknapp the Tottenham Hotspur coach.
“I’ve offered my services in the summer, I’ve really enjoyed these last few days,” he said. “The players have been outstanding.”
As well as losing Smalling, and later substitute Daniel Sturridge, Pearce was forced to tweak his lineup after only 33 minutes when Steven Gerrard, winning his 90th cap, limped off as a precautionary measure with a tight hamstring and was replaced by Sturridge.
Sturridge went close to scoring with a well-drilled low shot which Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg saved well, but he wasted a great chance to reduce the deficit when he fired a weak shot straight at the goalkeeper 17 minutes from time.
Cahill did pull one back when he slotted home a low shot under Stekelenburg after 84 minutes before Young equalised with a neat dinked finish six minutes later.