Euro 2008 – Romania’s quarter-final dream dies
Romania’s Euro 2008 quarter-final dream died as they lost 2-0 to the Netherlands with goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie.
A win for Victor Piturca’s side would have guaranteed progression, while a draw would have been enough if the match in Zurich between World Cup finalists Italy and France also ended in stalemate.
However optimism turned to trepidation then despair as first Ajax man Huntelaar then Arsenal‘s Van Persie finished clinically either side of half-time.
Romania made a fist of it in the opening stages, playing with caution while threatening on occasion, yet as the half wore on a Netherlands side which had hammered both the Italians and French in previous games took control.
Given the quality on show in their side it was hard to believe that Marco van Basten had made nine changes from the 11 that won the ‘group of death’ with such ease: a strike-force of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Huntelaar was enough warning for Romania that their passage would not be guaranteed.
Romania have a superstar of their own in Adrian Mutu, the Fiorentina striker who missed a now crucial penalty against the Azzurri late on in the second round of matches as well as scoring. The cards just did not fall in his favour against the Dutch, though it was not for the want of trying.
After only four minutes Mutu played a dangerous ball into the box, half-met by Banel Nicolita; the ball looped up and Caledonian Thistle forward Marius Niculae banged a volley just wide of the near post to get their fans going.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action for some time as the Netherlands kept the ball without finding a final pass and Mutu sought to advance down the left from deep, with Cristian Chivu, Nicolita and Cosmin Contra all guilty of wasting chances to put in a good cross.
Dutch midfielder Orlando Engelaar showed them how to do it with a floated ball to the back post for an unmarked Van Persie, who stretched and directed the ball a couple of yards over.
With the game in Zurich still goalless, Romania remained in pole position to qualify as Mutu first controlled a long throw and turned to flash a deflected shot across goal – Wilfred Bouma doing well to block – then ran into space to unleash a bullet of a shot a couple of yards wide of the near post.
In between times the news came through that Italy had taken the lead, quieting the Romanian fans behind the goal in a stadium awash with orange.
On the stroke of the half Paul Codrea shot over from 12 yards after Razvan Rat had pulled back from the by-line, but that was by that time a rare forage forward as the Netherlands imposed their forward play upon the match.
Robben missed a guilt-edged chance following an excellent lay-off by Huntelaar, slipping the ball past goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont – and somehow also the post with the goal gaping.
There was another warning minutes into the second period as Van Persie controlled a lofted ball and turned to earn space, his low shot from eight yards somehow turned behind by the impressive Lobont.
On 54 minutes the breakthrough came when Engelaar’s attempt to reach a cross effectively worked as a dummy and Huntelaar was behind him to direct the ball into the bottom corner with a firm touch.
Amid several changes was the bold attacking move by Piturca of Nicolae Dica on for Codrea, yet the Steaua Bucharest forward threw away the last vestige of hope by chipping a poor pass straight through to Edwin van der Sar‘s replacement for the night Maarten Stekelenburg with four team-mates screaming for it in the box.
Italy had scored a second by that time, which meant Romania needed two themselves for the win.
With three minutes left Van Persie controlled with his chest and remained on his feet to smash the ball inside the near post and rub salt into Romania’s wounds. They had come so close to making it through the hardest group of the lot, yet fallen at the final hurdle.