International Friendly: England 2 Holland 3 (at Wembley)
A straight-talking Englishman replaced an incoherent Italian, but the Three Lions were still struggling to comprehend double Dutch on Wednesday night after Arjen Robben’s brace left them in pre-Euro 2012 limbo.
England’s plain-speaking caretaker boss, Stuart Pearce, will find it hard to understand how his audition for a longer crack at the job ended in defeat after a brave fightback.
Robben hit two brilliant goals either side of Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s powerful header as a dour friendly eventually burst into life around the hour mark.
The Bayern Munich winger’s second strike, in stoppage time, proved to be the winner, ending England’s revival after late goals from former Villa duo Gary Cahill and Ashley Young.
After a turbulent month in which the national team lost its coach Fabio Capello and captain John Terry, the Three Lions were glad to swap farce for football.
With Pearce warming the hot seat until a permanent replacement, most like Harry Redknapp, is appointed for Euro 2012, the temporary team-picker named Scott Parker as skipper.
Robben was the best player on the park and the best chance before the break came when he ran at Micah Richards and forced Joe Hart into a save at his near post.
For England, Adam Johnson’s strike deflected wide after a winding run, Leighton Baines came close with a dipping cross-shot, Cahill headed over from a corner and Young had a half-hearted penalty appeal.
Steven Gerrard, surprisingly not given the captain’s armband, was substituted after just 33 minutes but it was because his hamstring, not his pride, was hurting.
Daniel Sturridge impressed in patches – although he missed a late sitter – and he tested keeper Maarten Stekelenburg with a drilled shot through a crowded box.
But it was a former Chelsea favourite rather than a current one who lit up the match.
On 57 minutes Robben burst from inside his own half and took out three defenders with a slick bodyswerve before firing a fine finish past Hart from the edge of the area.
Before England had chance to recover it was 2-0. Huntelaar got up high, as a Dirk Kuyt cross from the right was delivered invitingly into the area with the striker powering in a 59th-minute header.
Huntelaar perpetuated the Dutch stereotype by emerging from the aerial challenge with a mouthful of grass and a headache, while Chris Smalling was even worse for wear and was stretchered off with concussion.
Cahill gave England hope on 85 minutes when a forward surge ended with him calmly working space to slot a shot past Stekelenburg, albeit it from an offside position. And Young seemed to have earned a draw when he chipped in a last-minute equaliser from Phil Jones’ incisive pass after a slick move around the edge of the Dutch area.
However, Pearce could have been forgiven for reaching for the traditional English ‘We was Robb-ed’ sporting parlance in time added on when Robben curled in a brilliant winner.
The future is Orange for the Dutch, the future for England is uncertain.
ENGLAND: Hart, Richards, Cahill, Smalling (Jones 64), Baines, Gerrard (Sturridge 33, Walcott 88), Parker, Barry (Milner 46), Johnson (Downing 62), Welbeck (Campbell 80), Young. Subs: Green, Cole, Jones, Lescott, Carson.
HOLLAND: Stekelenburg, Boulahrouz (Vlaar 82), Heitinga, Mathijsen, Pieters (Schaars 46), Van Bommel, N De Jong, Robben, Sneijder (Emanuelson, 76), Kuyt, Van Persie (Huntelaar 46; L De Jong 62). Subs: Krul, Strootman, Wijnaldum, Bruma, John, Narsingh.