The European Championship is unremitting. The match appeared to tilt when Robin van Persie trimmed the Dutch deficit to 2-1, but Germany were the more poised side. Holland are without a point in the group and do not have a full say in their own destiny any longer. Germany lead with two victories but the Dutch, with none at all, still have theoretical prospect of advancing to the quarter-finals.
Their manager, Bert van Marwijk, was barely heartened by that, knowing that his side, in practice, are on the verge of elimination – they need to beat Portugal by two goals and for Germany to beat Denmark. The outcome in Kharkiv virtually stripped the Dutch of hope. Van Marwijk was wisely intent on complimenting the victors.
"Germany has a very good team," he said, "with lots of passing. They can score as they please. They're definitely favourites." Van Marwijk's opposite number did not make a pretence of modesty. Instead he took pride in detecting weakness in the defensive midfield pairing of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. "We knew it could be dangerous if we got into those spaces," said Joachim Löw a little smugly.
Animosity born of Germany's invasion of the Netherlands in the second world war may have receded to an extent, but this match still had an early intensity. Germany hit a post as early as the eighth minute with a volley from Mesut Ozil that also brought a partial save by Maarten Stekelenburg. By then van Persie had faltered when allowed an opportunity and sent his finish direct to the goalkeeper.
If the Arsenal forward was ill at ease, he is not alone in finding it as hard to fend off tension as it is to elude centre-backs. Indeed the opener from Germany in the 24th minute was particularly creditable for the confidence and technique that set it above the general tone of the night.
It was too easy for Bastian Schweinsteiger to pass the ball straight through the middle, but Mario Gomez still reacted beautifully, spinning to shoot beyond Stekelenburg. Holland's angst would have bitten deep then with a recognition that they were being outplayed. There is little mercy in the tournament. The European Championship can take pride in its intensity while it is still limited to 16 countries, but anxious coaches must wish there was more room for error. This match posed a great challenge.
The aim was simply to play well in defiance of the tension of the match and the overtones that this fixture carries. There are, too, expectations that have to be endured by footballers and their managers. Germany and Holland are, respectively, third and fourth in the world.
In essence, the Germans and Dutch must have seen a marvellous opportunity at this tournament if they could just survive the rigours of this group. Holland found it hard before the interval to demonstrate that they were peers of the Germans. Löw's men were easily identifiable as the bunch who won all 10 of their qualifiers for Euro 2012.
The misleading solace for Holland, such as it was, lay in the briefly delayed ruthlessness of the Germans, In practice, they understood the rich potential of counter-attacks when their opponents were obliged to take risks if they were to escape this second defeat. The execution was ideal for the next goal, seven minutes from half-time. Schweinsteiger slid a pass from the right into the path of Gomez, whose crushing drive flew past Stekelenburg.
The lead could have been greater but it did not appear even then that Germany would rue the occasional bout of wastefulness. Holland were unrecognisable as a side ranking high in the world under Van Marwijk's management. They could not reach the stability that would have been a start in countering ebullient and expert opponents.
Recoveries are not wholly impossible but they are hard to engineer in a tournament set at such a pitch. Sides seldom get an easy game in which to establish some poise. Holland would have understood that in the wake of the Denmark game, but the decisiveness of Germany in those opening 45 minutes had been unanswerable.
It might have been an exaggeration to claim that Holland still had hope but there seemed nothing left to lose. The introduction of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart was intended to add the sort of edge that might cut the opposition's lead. Even so, the principal difficulty lay in keeping this contest taut.
There was a danger that Holland would gradually be drained of whatever traces of optimism were still left in them. Some of the hunger was gone from the match, but Germany were thorough, striving to attack if only to drain a little more hope out of the opposition.
Even their defender Mats Hummels demanded two saves in quick succession from Stekelenburg. Some of the tautness went out of the game, with Germany confident of the points and Holland as convinced of inevitable defeat.
These are sides that each have a taste for adventure, but only Germany seemed wise to indulge it. Holland, for their part, strove to show that there was still hope within them. Jérôme Boateng suffered for that when an attempt from Lukas Podolski smashed against him.
Holland, all the same, had not despaired. The gap was closed to 2-1 by Van Persie's unanswerable drive from the left. Belatedly there was tension to the night, but it soon vanished once more.