Dutch too good for world champs Italy

The Netherlands post a thumping 3-0 win over World Cup holders Italy leaving them on the brink of elimination.

updated: June 15, 2008 17:57 IST
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Bern (Switzerland):

The Netherlands stunned Italy 3-0 in their European Championship opener on Monday, leaving the World Cup champions fighting to avoid elimination from the first round.

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder scored in the first half, and standout defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst added the third on a counterattack in the 79th minute to give Italy its most lopsided loss in the history of the tournament.

"This leaves us incredibly proud and with a great feeling," Sneijder said. "The first time is always incredibly important and to do this against Italy ... it gives us a lot of confidence. But we have to realize that it is not in the bag yet."

The Dutch carried several injuries into the match, but the Italians started with nine players over 30 and could not match the Netherlands for creativity and doggedness.

"It was a historic feat. This was Italy, the world champion," Netherlands coach Marco van Basten said. "I cannot name one player who played poorly."

Edwin van der Sar, the 37-year-old Netherlands goalkeeper, produced a stunning save on Andrea Pirlo's free kick to prevent Italy from getting back in the game in the 78th.

Van Nistelrooy's breakthrough goal was claimed to be offside by Italy, but the striker deflected a 20-meter (yard) shot from Van Bronckhorst past Gianluigi Buffon with an Italy defender off the field next to the goal.

The second goal was a perfect counter. Van Bronckhorst first kicked a ball off his own line in a goalmouth scramble and immediately rushed up the left, where he took a long pass from Rafael van der Vaart. The Italians had trouble dragging their aging feet back and were woefully out of position when Van Bronckhost sent a defense-splitting pass to Dirk Kuyt on the right.

The Liverpool player, who only started because of a groin injury to Arjen Robben, headed it perfectly into the path of Sneijder and the midfielder volleyed it past Buffon. There may not be a better goal in the tournament.

"We have been able to play superb football," Sneijder said. "Now we have to continue in the same vein."

The defeat left Italy last in Group C after France and Romania drew 0-0. A defeat against the Romanians could send the Azzurri out by Friday.

"We have to accept this loss and look ahead to our next two games," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "That's the great thing about this (tournament). We face Romania right away and we need a win to restore our pride. We have to go out onto the field believing we can win."

The Italians may have had billboards saying "Spremuta d'Orange" _ freshly squeezed orange juice _ but it was a Dutch squeezing which left the Azzurri blue in the face.

It was not supposed to be like that, especially since the Dutch missed their mercurial wingers Robben and Robin van Persie. On top of that, its defense was supposed to be brittle, especially against tall men.

Van Basten, however, surprised everyone by playing Khalid Boulahrouz, who only came into the squad last week to replace the injured Ryan Babel.

It was by far the biggest victory for Van Basten in his four-year spell for the Netherlands and it will increase the pressure on Donadoni, who has never been able to fully assume the mantle of his World Cup-winning predecessor Marcello Lippi.

"We allowed two goals due to errors, but Holland did not completely outplay us," Donadoni said. "We started well, then we struggled a bit with our game plan. But from the desire point of view, the guys reacted well. Tonight just wasn't a night when the shots went in for us."

Italy standout defender Fabio Cannavaro was on crutches watching from the dugout after an ankle injury put him out of the competition ahead of its start. Marco Materazzi, a hero of the 2006 World Cup, was supposed to take over his place seamlessly.

It didn't work.

Materazzi could not keep pace with a reinvigorated Van Nistelrooy. Embarrassingly, he had to be substituted in the 53rd by Fabio Grosso and Donadoni had to rework his whole defense instead of beefing up the attack.

"We had three or four chances we didn't take advantage of," Donadoni said.

The victory ended a 30-year drought for the Dutch against Italy, who famously beat them in the semifinals of the 2000 European Championship, which the Netherlands hosted.

At the Wankdorf stadium, most of the stands looked an intense orange, and when most started singing "Hup, Holland, Hup," the Italians might have known it was all over.

Donadoni brought in Alessandro Del Piero in the 64th minute, but that too seemed to be for old time's sake. He had a good shot on goal, but he faced the older man, this one playing his best, Van der Sar.

Teams for the Euro 2008 group C match

Holland (4-2-3-1)

Edwin van der Sar (capt.); Khalid Boulahrouz, Andre Ooijer, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst; Nigel de Jong, Orlando Engelaar; Dirk Kuyt, Rafael van der Vart, Wesley Sneijder; Ruud van Nistelrooy

Italy (4-3-3)

Gianluigi Buffon (capt.); Christian Panucci, Andrea Barzagli, Marco Materazzi, Gianluca Zambrotta; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini; Mauro Camoranesi, Luca Toni, Antonio di Natale

Ref: Peter Frojdfeldt (SWE)