Euro 2008 – Clinical Netherlands march on

The Netherlands qualified for the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 with a superb 4-1 victory over France at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf in Berne.

FOOTBALL 2008 Euro 2008. Arjen Robben y André Ooijer. Netherlands-France. Foto: EFE. - 0

Dirk Kuyt‘s header gave them an early lead, and France spurned a series of chances to equalise before Arjen Robben teed up Robin van Persie for the Netherlands’s second.

Thierry Henry halved the deficit with 20 minutes to play, but Robben scored within a minute to put the tie beyond the French and Wesley Sneijder added a fitting coup de grace with a stunning shot into the top-left corner in injury time.

The win puts the Netherlands into the last eight as group winners, while France must beat Italy in their final group game to stand any chance of progressing.

France coach Raymond Domenech made three changes to the side that had been held to a goalless draw by Romania in the group opener, with Patrice Evra, Sidney Govou and Henry all coming into the side.

The Netherlands, quite understandably, kept faith with the same team that had vanquished Italy in such impressive fashion, and with less than 10 minutes on the clock they took the lead when Kuyt outmuscled Florent Malouda to head home Rafael van der Vaart‘s right-wing corner from close range.

The Dutch quickly hit their passing stride, and France were finding it hard to find a foothold in the game, but on 23 minutes Govou tested Edwin van der Sar with a right-footed effort after being picked out by Willy Sagnol from the right.

And gradually the French began to impose themselves, with first Govou and then Franck Ribery calling Van der Sar into action following breaks down the left-hand side.

Ribery played a low cross across the face of goal and Henry sent a trademark curler wide of the right-hand post as France upped their efforts at the end of the first 45, and after five minutes of the second they felt they should have been awarded a penalty.

Govou’s shot from the right landed at Henry’s feet at the back post, and his goalbound effort appeared to strike Andre Ooijer on the hand, but referee Herbert Fandel was unmoved.

Henry should have drawn France level shortly afterwards when he raced onto Malouda’s pass before lobbing the ball over the crossbar with only Van der Sar beat, and with half an hour to play his profligacy was duly punished when second-half substitutes Robben and Van Persie combined to stunning effect.

Van Nistelrooy released Robben with a delightful pirouette on the halfway line, and the Real Madrid winger surged down the left before crossing for Van Persie to volley home via Coupet’s left hand.

Henry finally found the net when he tucked home Sagnol’s low cross from the right with 20 minutes to play, but less than a minute later Robben restored his side’s two-goal advantage when he latched onto Van der Vaart’s through ball before firing the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

The Netherlands continue to threaten on the counter-attack, and after Coupet had batted away a looping goalbound header from Van Nistelrooy, Sneijder fired a right-footer in off the crossbar from 18 yards to cap another irrestistible counter-attacking performance from Marco van Basten’s men.

Tom Williams / Eurosport

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