Slick Dutch stun world champions
Wesley Sneijder steers the second Dutch goal past Gianluigi Buffon (©Getty Images)
The Netherlands ended a 30-year wait for a victory over Italy in emphatic fashion as they began their Group C campaign with a rousing 3-0 win against the world champions in Berne.
Worst EURO defeat
Ruud van Nistelrooy side-footed the Oranje ahead in the 26th minute, a lead doubled superbly by his Real Madrid CF colleague Wesley Sneijder soon after. Edwin van der Sar, becoming only the third player to appear in four UEFA European Championships, then kept the advantage intact, leaving Giovanni van Bronckhorst to complete the scoring with a headed third in the 79th minute. The Netherlands can now look forward with confidence to Friday's meeting with France, while Italy must pick themselves up from a worst-ever EURO defeat when they face Romania.
The early skirmishes gave scant indication of what was to come. Andrea Pirlo dispossessed Van Bronckhorst with an exquisite tackle and freed Antonio Di Natale but his pass lacked the precision to pick out Luca Toni. The FC Bayern München striker did get a glimpse of goal in the 12th minute, rising to flick a header wide from an equally promising position, yet that was about as close as the world champions got in a first half subsequently dominated by Marco van Basten's side. Dirk Kuyt, ever willing on the right flank, outmuscled Gianluca Zambrotta in the 18th minute and slipped a delicious low ball to Van Nistelrooy who touched it beyond the outrushing Gianluigi Buffon but stayed on his feet after making contact with the Italy captain. That was the last act of charity from the Dutch, as Roberto Donadoni's team paid for the concession of a number of free-kicks on the periphery of their area.
Sneijder first fizzed one set-piece in from the left which Marco Materazzi headed clear. Then Rafael van der Vaart did likewise from the right, the scrambling Buffon's punched clearance eventually reaching birthday boy Sneijder whose powerful drive from the corner of the box was side-footed in by Van Nistelrooy as the Azzurri defence appealed for offside. Italy went close to levelling from an inswinging corner five minutes later yet were caught flat-footed in the 31st minute when Van Bronckhorst, who had cleared off the line, was able to charge half the length of the field unchallenged.
The Feyenoord man made the most of the time afforded him, pinging a perfect crossfield ball to Kuyt whose cushioned header was spectacularly hooked inside Buffon's near post by the leaping Sneijder. Italy's three-man midfield of Gennaro Gattuso, Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini could not contain Sneijder as he probed the left side, creating space for Van Bronckhorst. The full-back was able all too easily to dissect an Azzurri back line missing injured captain Fabio Cannavaro with a pass that released Van Nistelrooy on goal. Buffon stood tall, however, clipping the shot over with his feet.
Van der Sar saves
Italy sought a way back into the match after the break. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero failed to profit from two half-chances before Toni lofted a shot over when free on the penalty spot on 76 minutes. Van der Sar then foiled Fabio Grosso at close range before diving at full stretch to keep out a Pirlo free-kick, leaving Van Bronckhorst to wrap things up at the other end following smart work by Kuyt. The last time the Netherlands beat Italy they went on to reach the 1978 FIFA World Cup final – a lucky omen as they look to claim a first European crown since their coach volleyed them to glory in 1988.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy struck the Netherlands` opening goal (©Getty Images)