Kharkiv: The Netherlands have plenty of marquee names in their Euro 2012 squad but they do not have an enforcer in the mould of Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Approaching his prime at 27, Schweinsteiger’s influence was evident again on Wednesday when he set up both goals as Germany beat the Dutch 2-1 with a lesson in fast, powerful and clinically effective football.
Mario Gomez will rightly take the plaudits after scoring both goals to take his tournament tally to three but it is Schweinsteiger’s ability to set the tempo that could help Germany finish what they started at the 2010 World Cup finals.
The Bayern Munich player was one of Germany’s best performers two years ago when they played the most eye-catching football of the tournament, only to lose to Spain in the semi-finals.
He may not wear the captain’s armband but his leadership qualities were obvious against the Dutch, driving Germany forward in a first half they dominated and getting stuck in at the coal face when the Netherlands fought back late on.
“Schweinsteiger is getting better and better, he’s developing more of a presence and when it gets tough he can keep the ball,” coach Joachim Loew said after Germany moved to the brink of the quarter-finals.
“He’s physically strong and wins the one-on-ones.”
While talk of unrest and ego clashes in the Dutch camp have bubbled away in the opening week of the tournament, a sub-plot that will only gain legs after two consecutive defeats, Germany’s team spirit and togetherness look unshakable.
Discipline, hard work and ruthless efficiency have been the hallmarks of the great German sides down the years.
This current crop boasts all those attributes but in Schweinsteiger they have a player who would walk into any of the world’s top sides, Spain included.
Crucially too he looks 100 percent fit after struggling with injuries during the season.
“I am getting back to my top form, I am sure of that, I just don’t know when that will be,” he said this week.
His form so far suggests that he is peaking at just the right time to help Germany to a fourth European title.
Loew also revealed that the German squad received a visit from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich before the match and Schweinsteiger, in the Bayern team who lost the Champions League final to the London club last month, was seen sharing a joke with the Russian billionaire.
While Schweinsteiger gives Germany a sense of purpose in the middle of the pitch, the contrast could not be greater with the Dutch who gave the impression of playing like a team of individuals.
Too often the wrong options were chosen and there was a disharmony in their play neatly summed up by Schweinsteiger’s Bayern Munich team mate Arjen Robben.
“There is no cohesion between our lines, there are gaps and we are not connecting and then it is very difficult to recover the ball,” he told reporters.
Sounds like the perfect job for Schweinsteiger, if only he were Dutch.