The long lens of history is usually snapping away when Holland face Germany, waiting to add to the fading images of times past: Beckenbauer lifting the World Cup; Ronald Koeman wiping his backside with the shirt of Olaf Thon; the flim-phlegm over that spit into Rudi Völler's hair; multiple other provocations and teases, sometimes with darker hues too.

In 2004 the football writer Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger wrote: "As far as Germans are concerned, you can sum up the situation in two statements. First, Holland-Germany is one of the most heated rivalries in Europe. Secondly, the mentally unstable party in this explosive relationship is the Dutch. They not only started this rivalry, they have carried it to a point where it is obsessive, almost psychotic."

Times are changing. When Germany arrive at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night they will be booed and hissed but then pantomime villainry will give way to more pressing concerns. Defeat when overwhelming favourites to beat Italy during the semi-finals of Euro 2012 was a painful enough rejoinder but getting a mannschafting from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and friends after leading 4-0 at home to Sweden was a violent attack on everything German football once stood for: mental toughness, obdurate defence, never giving a centimetre when a millimetre will suffice.

Der Spiegel described that performance last month as "60 minutes heaven, 30 minutes hell" but the inquest has burned a lot longer. Joachim Löw has guided his side to two semi-finals and a final in three tournaments but the questions are becoming more pointed now. Why are the basics of defending so loosely applied? Do the attacking three – possibly Lukas Poldolski, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze against the Dutch – track back enough? And what is the point of creating beautiful pictures if they can be ripped apart so easily?

Germany run the risk of being international football's answer to Arsenal: enthralling neutrals but winning nothing. It has now been 16 years since they won an international trophy. How long before Baddiel and Skinner start working on their German compound verbs?

There have been suggestions that Löw will try to recalibrate the balance between attack and defence against Holland. His side certainly have something to prove although, given injuries and illnesses, they may lack the toolbox to do it. Many of the marquee names – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Jérôme Boateng, Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil, Marcel Schmelzer and Mario Gómez, who scored both goals in Germany's 2-1 win over the Netherlands in Euro 2012 – are missing.

Still, that provides opportunities for others. Schalke's Roman Neustädter could make his debut – adding steel to central midfield – although a partnership with Sami Khedira may sacrifice too much flair for protecting the back four. Neustädter's club team-mates Lewis Holtby and Julian Draxler are also likely to feature. And with no recognised forward, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder Marco Reus – who has scored three goals in five games – is expected to lead the line.

"We want to finish the year on a good note, and win over our fans with a good performance," Löw says. He will need to. Certainly the new Dutch coach, Louis van Gaal, is not afraid to twist the screw, telling the German tabloids: "It's important for a coach to win titles. He's won little."

The Dutch have questions of their own to answer, however. It is now a decade this week since they last beat Germany, with goals from Patrick Kluivert, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Ruud van Nistelrooy and they flopped at the Euros when third favourites. Watching them attempt to seek a more harmonious path under Van Gaal will be interesting, as will seeing them line up without the injured Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie on Wednesday night.

Still, they have plenty of players who can shatter wobbly defensive foundations. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, one of six in the Dutch squad who play in Germany, has 34 goals in 59 internationals and is chasing down Patrick Kluivert's all-time tally of 40 goals in 79 games. And Arjen Robben insists he has the bit between his teeth too. "It's still an important and very special game," he told Bild. "However, the hatred and aggression from before is no longer there. The relationship between Netherlands and Germany is pretty good these days. I think this has something to do with Louis van Gaal's time at Bayern Munich but players like Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart and myself have made a good impression in Germany, too."

That much is true. The heat has died down in recent years – although a pre-Christmas friendly between these teams is not yet the moment for stollen, glühwein and merry times. This matters. The photographers will be in position, hoping to capture images that will linger. As will Löw, hoping his team can eradicate the doubts.