Rotterdam: The Netherlands got their European Championship preparations back on track Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Slovakia thanks to an own goal and a second-half strike from Rafael van der Vaart.
The Dutch needed a spark to ignite their sputtering campaign after losing 3-2 to Bayern Munich last week followed by a lackluster 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria on Saturday. It came in the form of Ibrahim Afellay, who was playing his first international in nearly a year after recovering from a serious left knee injury.
The Barcelona midfielder had an almost immediate impact when his cross from the left was deflected into his own net by Kornel Salata in the seventh minute.
Van der Vaart came on for the injured Wesley Sneijder and doubled the score with a low shot in the 75th minute.
Sneijder limped off the pitch in the 51st minute with an injury to his left ankle, but coach Bert van Marwijk said it did not appear to be serious.
Afellay on the left and Arjen Robben on the right provided the width and depth missing on Saturday, creating more room for Robin van Persie and Sneijder in the first half.
Looking fresh and fit after barely playing this season, Afellay also forced a save from Jan Mucha after a clever pass from Van Persie set him free on the left in the 15th minute and just failed to get on the end of a lob pass over the defense by Sneijder.
"It went well after such a long time out, but when you have played football as long as I have you don't lose the feeling," Afellay said.
But while the Netherlands were lively in attack, they remained frail at the back.
After a miscommunication, defenders Wilfred Bouma and John Heitinga clashed heads in the opening minute and both had to receive treatment, with Bouma later taken to hospital for precautionary tests. The Netherlands had to defend the ensuing corner with both defenders still off the pitch and Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik almost took full advantage, hitting the bar with a header.
Another clumsy mistake, this time a poor back pass by Gregory van der Wiel, gave Slovakia an indirect free kick well inside the Dutch penalty area but Miroslav Stoch fired the ball into the side netting. And in the last minute of the first half Slovakia squandered another good chance when Bouma slipped, allowing Marek Bakos a shot that he pulled just wide of Maarten Stekelenburg's goal.
"We have to play better and we have to eliminate those small errors that can let our opponents back into the match, because they will be punished at the European Championship," Mark van Bommel said.
After coming on for Sneijder, Van der Vaart curled a free kick on the edge of the penalty area over the Slovak wall and past keeper Mucha, but saw the ball rebound off the bar.
But just two minutes later some quick passing by the Dutch attack pulled apart the Slovakia defense and Van der Vaart picked up a loose ball and fired into the far corner to double the lead with his 18th international goal.
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel, Wilfred Bouma (Ron Vlaar, 45), John Heitinga, Stijn Schaars, Arjen Robben (Luciano Narsingh, 84), Wesley Sneijder (Rafael van der Vaart, 51), Ibrahim Afellay (Dirk Kuyt, 80), Robin van Persie (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 68).
Slovakia: Jan Mucha, Dusan Svento, Tomas Hubocan, Kornel Salata, Peter Pekarik, Karim Guede, Marek Cech, Michal Breznanik (Roman Prochazka, 45), Marek Hamsik, Miroslav Stoch (Kamil Kopunek, 82), Marek Bakos (Filip Holosko, 78).