As the world champions prepare to host Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje in Pescara, Goal.com dips into the archives and takes a look at the ties that bind two of the world’s finest sides together.Four years ago, Italy looked far from being world beaters as they limped through qualifying. Marcello Lippi faced a barrage of criticism going into the friendly with Holland on November 12, 2005. A 3-1 victory ended Marco van Basten’s 16-game unbeaten run as the Oranje coach, and provided a glimmer of hope for the 2006 World Cup. The rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly, the Azzurri are unbeaten against Holland in their 11 friendly matches. The sides’ first ever meeting came back in 1920 in Genoa, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Italy recorded their first win in 1928, when Torino legend Julio Libonatti scored a brace in a 3-2 win. More recently, Holland led 2-0 in Eindhoven in 1992 thanks to Dennis Bergkamp, but Stefano Eranio, Roberto Baggio and Gianluca Vialli hit back to give the Azzurri their first victory on Dutch soil.
However, the Italians have often suffered in competitive matches between the sides. Johan Cruyff put the Azzurri to the sword as the Dutch ran out 3-1 winners in the qualifying campaign for the 1976 European Championships. Fabio Capello scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Italy in the return match. The 1968 European champions were beaten again by the Oranje in the second group phase of the 1978 World Cup – the only time the sides have ever met on the world’s biggest stage. The Italians led going into the break, but Ernie Brandts and Arie Haan turned the tie around to send the Dutch through to the final.
The teams’ most recent meetings have come in the European Championship finals. In 2000, the Dutch contrived to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Gianluca Zambrotta was sent off after just 33 minutes, but Holland missed two penalties in normal time before crashing out of the tournament in a penalty shootout after the game ended goalless. In 2008, Holland tore a woeful Italian side apart in the group stage to pick up their first victory over Italy for 30 years.
It is fair to say that the Dutch have enjoyed far more success in Italy on an individual level. Faas Wilkes is still Holland’s third-leading goalscorer, a remarkable achievement given that he was banned from playing international football from the age of 26 to 32, and he wowed Inter fans from 1949-1952, when he was sold to Torino. Ruud Krol, capped 83 times for the Oranje, had a successful four-year spell with Napoli until his sale was necessitated in 1984 due to physical problems.
There have been an innumerable amount of Dutch players to have lit up Serie A in more recent times, while the presence of the likes of Edgar Davids, Wesley Sneijder and Clarence Seedorf show that the Dutch tradition is still going strong. The latter remains the only player to have won the Champions League with three different clubs - Ajax, Real Madrid and Milan. Jaap Stam’s reputation was tarnished during his time at Lazio after testing positive for nandrolone after a match against Atalanta, but Aron Winter had a far better stint with the Biancocelesti before joining Inter.
Seedorf - Champions League Veteran
The Nerazzurri had already looked to the services of Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp in the mid 1990s, but neither was able to bring their high standards to Serie A. Edwin van der Sar stood between the posts for Juventus from 1999-2001, but then lost his place to Gianluigi Buffon and moved to Fulham.
However, for some of the finest Dutchmen to have played in Italy, one has to look at Milan. Patrick Kluivert may not have overly impressed with the Rossoneri, but had some illustrious names to live up to. Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten played vital roles for the outstanding Milan side of the late 1980s and early 1990s, who remain the last team to win successive European Cups (1989 and 1990). Van Basten was Capocannoniere on two occasions, while the trio were instrumental in winning three scudetti with the Rossoneri.
Italians in Holland are slightly harder to come by. Young striker Graziano Pelle is currently plying his trade with AZ Alkmaar, but few make the move from the Peninsula to the Eredivisie with any real success.
Dutch Delight - van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit
While Ronald Koeman may not have played in Italy, he certainly had a big impact on Sampdoria. The defender scored a rocket of a free kick, which arguably should never have been given, in extra time of the 1992 European Cup final to condemn the Blucerchiati to defeat.
If Italy have been the more successful on the international stage, many of the luminaries of the Dutch game have found their feet in Serie A while their Italian counterparts are content to remain in their homeland. The Milan-based duo of Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have both been selected for the friendly against the Azzurri this weekend, and they will be looking to fire Holland to their first ever victory on Italian soil. For Italy, it is a chance to replicate the story of 2005. Could a friendly victory over the Oranje give them the impetus they need to perform like world champions as it did four years ago? It is sure to be an intriguing and enticing contest.
Anthony Wright, Goal.com