Sunday 22 June 2008
Sad farewell for Dutch stalwarts
Marco van Basten's last international appearance for the Netherlands was just three years before Edwin van der Sar made his debut in 1995 – on Saturday night the coach and his goalkeeper bowed out together with the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Russia.
Van Basten had announced before the tournament that he would join AFC Ajax after four years in charge of his country. Van der Sar equally decided that, aged 37, it was time for him to leave international football, his Dutch-record 128th cap being his last as he equalled Lilian Thuram's mark of 16 UEFA European Championship outings. He made a number of vital saves at St. Jakob-Park but was powerless to keep Russia at bay as Dmitri Torbinski and Andrei Arshavin scored in the last eight minutes of extra time.
"We created too few chances ourselves and gave too much away," Van der Sar said. "[Russia] played very well, and we did not play as well as in the group stage. And that hurts." He also admitted he would miss this stage. "It is the end of my international career – the tournaments I will miss most, they are the nicest to experience. I have reached quarter-finals, semi-finals, but that is not enough. You always want more than that. But every two years there is only one team that wins the tournament, and in my playing days that has not been for me to experience."
The disappointing conclusion to Van der Sar's Oranje career also deepened Van Basten's regret at their loss in Basel. "I feel very sorry for Edwin van der Sar, as I had hoped to give him a nice finale in his career with the Netherlands," the 43-year-old said. "We didn't succeed in that and I feel sorry for Edwin as he deserves to win a tournament like this. We tried, we didn't succeed and I feel sorry for him."
This job was Van Basten's first as a head coach. In his debut campaign he led the Netherlands to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, past a group containing Argentina, Serbia and Montenegro and Ivory Coast, and into the last 16 where they were knocked out by Portugal. This time around Van Basten's team stormed through the group stage by defeating Italy 3-0, France 4-1 and Romania 2-0, only to be outdone by compatriot Hiddink and his Russia side.
Reflecting on his time at the helm, Van Basten mused: "I think in the first two years we played well in qualification. And in the [World Cup] we were in the 'group of death' and we got to the last 16 and had an unfortunate game against Portugal. In the last two years we had problems in qualification but we started well in this tournament. But today we have to say Russia were simply better than we were."