Euro 2008 – Dutch masters destroy Italy
Goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst gave the Netherlands a stunning 3-0 victory over world champions Italy in their Euro 2008 Group C opener at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf in Berne.
Van Nistelrooy gave Marco van Basten’s men the lead when he tapped home from an offside position after 26 minutes, before Sneijder extended their advantage with a breath-takingly well-executed team goal five minutes later.
The result gives the Netherlands a two-point lead at the top of Group C following France’s 0-0 draw with Romania earlier in the day, while the performance suggests their name was an unwise omission from the list of pre-tournament favourites.
They had gone into the game shorn of the services of attacking trio Arjen Robben, Ryan Babel and Robin van Persie, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench, but they almost took the lead on 17 minutes when Van Nistelrooy rounded Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon but found the angle too acute for a shot.
Marco Materazzi nearly gifted the Dutch a goal midway through the first half when he flashed a header inches wide of Buffon’s left-hand post, but minutes later the Netherlands did take the lead, albeit in controversial circumstances.
Rafael van der Vaart‘s inswinging free-kick from the Dutch right was not properly cleared, and when Sneijder fired the ball back into the box from the left-hand corner of the penalty area Van Nistelrooy was on hand to tuck it home from two yards despite being offside.
Toni was booked for his role in the Italian protests that followed, but where the first Dutch goal was fortunate, the second was sublime.
Pirlo’s corner from the Italy left was cleared off the line by Van Bronckhorst, and 17 seconds later the ball was in the Italy net following a left-wing cross from Van Bronckhorst, a back-post knockdown from Dirk Kuyt and a superb airborne half-volley from Sneijder that flew inside the near post.
Antonio di Natale saw a volley saved by Edwin van der Sar and a rising drive from 20 yards fly over the crossbar as Italy sought a way back into the game, but Van Nistelrooy spurned a chance to make the game safe for the Dutch two minutes before half-time when he raced onto a beautifully weighted Van der Vaart pass but drove his shot at Buffon’s legs.
Italy, inevitably, saw a lot more of the ball in the second half, and Toni wasted a brilliant chance to snatch a goal back when he lofted the ball over the crossbar after being picked out by substitute Antonio Cassano, before Grosso drew a save from Van der Sar after nipping into the Dutch area from the left.
Van der Sar came to the rescue again moments later with a tremendous flying save to keep out a Pirlo free-kick, and once again the Dutch turned a narrow escape into a goal, with Kuyt crossing for Van Bronckhorst to head home after another break-neck counter-attack.
Even with a three-goal cushion Holland continued to attack, with replacement Ibrahim Afellay clipping the crossbar from wide on the right as the Dutch sought to further embellish a performance that will go down as one of the most memorable nights in their rich footballing history.