Huntelaar brace sees off Finland
Bert van Marwijk's men came into the Group E clash in good spirits after posting a one-sided 5-0 win over San Marino in their opening qualifier on Friday, but were pushed all the way in this one as Finland shrugged off the disappointment of their loss to Moldova with a much-improved display.
Schalke striker Huntelaar opened his account after just seven minutes before doubling his tally from the penalty spot 10 minutes later.
Finland looked dead and buried at that point, but two minutes later Hannover frontman Mikael Forssell pulled a goal back for the visitors, who were denied a point when the Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg saved Tim Sparv's late header.
Holland took the lead on seven minutes when Rafael van der Vaart played a short corner to Wesley Sneijder, whose cross was met by Huntelaar with a header beyond the despairing Otto Fredrikson. Ibrahim Afellay might have doubled the Dutch lead four minutes later but his shot was well saved by Fredrikson.
The visitors went further ahead after 17 minutes, however, when Finland defender Markus Heikkinen hauled down Mark van Bommel in the area and the referee awarded the spot-kick. Huntelaar stepped up to take the penalty, and made no mistake as he stroked the ball home low into the bottom-left corner of the net.
The hosts appeared to be cruising but were surprisingly pegged back two minutes later when Petri Pasanen's inswinging corner from the left was met by a bullet header by Forssell into the the top-left corner of Stekelenburg's net.
Van der Vaart nearly restored the home side's two-goal cushion on 29 minutes when he fired in a stinging shot that was parried by Fredrikson, while moments later Stekelenburg had to be on his toes to block Forssell's right-footed effort as the visitors threatened to make a fight of it.
The excitement of the first period failed to continue after the break, as the Netherlands kept things tight in the midfield to deprive their opponents of even a sniff of goal for much of the half.
A long-range effort by Sneijder that flew well over the bar was all the Dutch showed by way of attacking threat after the restart as the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finalists got men behind the ball in increased numbers.
The Dutch tactic almost backfired at the death, though, as Finland came close on two occasions to snatching what would have been a famous point for the Scandinavian nation.
First Alexei Eremenko saw his shot from just outside the area well blocked by the lunging Johnny Heitinga, while second later the hosts were indebted to Stekelenburg for making a save from Sparv's header which ensured the Netherlands would pick up the three points.