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Van Nistelrooy salvages Dutch draw

The Dutch defense is in disarray as Frings scores with a free kick

PORTO, Portugal -- Ruud van Nistelrooy struck eight minutes from time to earn the Dutch a 1-1 draw with Germany who dominated their much anticipated Euro 2004 opener in Porto on Tuesday.

The Germans deservedly led through Torsten Fring's 30th-minute free kick and the Dutch rarely threatened an equalizer before Van Nistelrooy turned sharply to hook in a right-wing cross from close range.

Czech Republic lead Group D with three points after their earlier 2-1 comeback success against tournament outsiders Latvia.

"We really deserved that goal," said Manchester United striker van Nistelrooy.

"We had a lot of posession but Germany made it difficult for us. You are not going to make too many chances against them, but we kept fighting.

"We finished the game on a high -- a defeat would have been a disaster -- and now we have more rest in the camp."

The Dutch created the first chance after only two minutes when skipper Philip Cocu lobbed the German defence but the ball was just beyond the reach of Van Nistelrooy who failed to connect.

Apart from that the Dutch had very few chances of note, largely because German coach Rudi Voeller won the tactical battle against his Dutch rival Dick Advocaat.

Voeller said: "It's a bit annoying. We should have added another one after leading 1-0 but nevertheless compliments to my team.

"We can live with it even if it was a little bit bitter at the end. We didn't lose anything but we didn't win anything either.

"The last game against the Czechs will the knockout game for us. We had to go out bravely today - we are Germany, we are World Cup finalists - and we succeeded over long stretches of the game."

Germany captain and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said his side had played their best match for a long time.

"But you must maintain such a level for the full 90 minutes and the Dutch built up real pressure and they got their goal.

"This group will remain open until the last minute."

Michael Ballack said Germany had started the tournament well despite doubts at home about their ability.

"We led for a long time and therefore we are a bit disappointed at the end. But it's probably a fair result. But we have build up a lot of self-belief with our display."

Lone striker

The Netherlands played with Van Nistelrooy as a lone striker as expected, but he was isolated time and again and surrounded at times by up to five German defenders.

Van Nistelrooy strikes his dramatic late equalizer against the Germans

The tactic failed because of ineffective midfield displays from Edgar Davids and Boudewijn Zenden who were both replaced at half-time.

They were largely played out of the match by robust tackling and defending by the German defenders, especially the outstanding Christian Woerns.

Both teams came into the match in a nervous state of mind following poor build-ups to the finals with the Germans under pressure after a recent 5-1 defeat by Romania and a 2-0 home loss to Hungary this month.

The Dutch, beaten 1-0 by Belgium and Ireland in their build-up, were also rattled by the usual personality clashes in their camp.

It showed as they rarely played as a working unit, and Germany's championship pedigree became more to the fore as the game went on.

The game was played in a passionate atmosphere at the Dragao Stadium with the thousands of orange-clad Dutch fans becoming more subdued as their team was pushed back -- until their dramatic late equaliser.

Michael Ballack, substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger and striker Kevin Kuranyi all tested Van der Sar as the Dutch left space at the back pressing forward for an equalizer.

It finally came and German goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn, celebrating his 35th birthday, had a rather more subdued celebration than seemed likely.

Still they had good reason to be happy as Germany emphatically proclaimed their presence in this tournament.

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