Holland were dealt a number of blows coming into the game, the biggest of all came on Saturday when Arjen Robben was ruled out after picking up a groin problem.
The experienced Clarence Seedorf refused to travel
to Euro 2008, Ryan Babel was also at home due to injury, while Robin Van Persie
was still not fit enough to start.
Marco Van Basten surprisingly opted for
Khalid Boulahrouz ahead of Johnny Heitinga in defence. Ruud Van Nistelrooy started
as the lone frontman, supported by Rafael Van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and
The Azzurri had some problems in defence, having been robbed
of the services of inspirational captain Fabio Cannavaro, who injured his ankle
in training and was ruled out of the tournament. Roberto Donadoni also sprung a
surprise by starting Massimo Ambrosini ahead of Daniele De Rossi to form an
all-Milan midfield. Christian Panucci had been a doubt for the game due to a
knee problem, but he started at right back. Donadoni employed a forward trident
of Mauro Camoranesi, Luca Toni and Antonio Di Natale.
had the first chance of the game as Di Natale lost his man down the right, but
in a good shooting position he tried to find Toni in the middle, and over-hit
his cross. Camoranesi then lashed a shot well wide from long range.
Toni and Camoranesi combined well, and the latter slipped a
clever through ball to Ambrosini but he just couldn’t get onto the end of it.
Down the other end Van Nistelrooy saw a shot charged down.
On 10 minutes Sneijder smashed a free kick from a promising
position against the wall, while Gianluigi Buffon got down to make the first
save of the game from Van der Vaart’s daisycutter.
Moments later Toni rose above his man at the back post but
his header from Gattuso’s cross was misdirected. Van Nistelrooy ambitiously
tried his luck but his effort bobbled harmlessly straight at Buffon.
On 17 minutes Holland
missed a fantastic chance as Kuyt slipped Van Nistelrooy through on goal. The
Real Madrid man rounded Buffon but lost his balance and was forced too wide to
make the chance count. At first it looked like Buffon had made contact with
Ruud and that a penalty could have been on offer if the Dutchman had gone down.
However, replays show that Buffon withdrew from the challenge and Van
Nistelrooy, in evading, lost his balance.
Van der Vaart then volleyed over from just outside the box
controlled the midfield in the early stages.
On 24 minutes Marco Materazzi had his heart in his mouth as
he back flicked a header from Sneijder’s free kick just inches wide of his own
Moments later Holland
were in front amid some controversy.
Buffon punched out a corner, Sniejder smashed the ball back in, and Van
Nistelrooy turned the ball in from close range. Replays showed that the forward
was clearly offside, and quite how both officials failed to spot it is
were enraged and Toni was booked for protesting. The forward then went down in
the penalty area under pressure from Mathijsen but the referee didn’t want to
On the half hour Pirlo’s corner was flicked on at the near
post, and Van Bronckhorst cleared off his own line. Holland countered straight
down the other end, Van der Vaart hit a wonderful cross-field pass to Kuyt, who
headed down to Sneijder, and the midfielder turned the ball past Buffon
superbly to make it 2-0!
were shell-shocked, and Di Natale fired in a vicious volley but it was straight
at Van der Sar, who saved at the second attempt.
Nevertheless the Italy team was all over the place
especially in defence, where there was no leadership or organisation without
Cannavaro. Barzagli and Materazzi looked like they had never meet each other in
their whole life.
On 42 minutes it should have been three as Van der Vaart
threaded through the red sea separating the two Italy centre backs to put Van
Nistelrooy clean through on goal, but Buffon kept his side in the game by
saving superbly with his feet.
On the stroke of half time Di Natale had a rare attempt for
the Azzurri, striking a sweet half volley over the bar from 25 yards as the
Dutch went in 2-0 up at the break.
Into the second half and Italy immediately came out of the
blocks, Panucci heading wide from a corner at the near post.
also had a chance from a corner but Ambrosini just did enough to put off Andre
Ooijer at the back post.
Zambrotta burst forward from left back, and delightfully cut
inside Dirk Kuyt, but he sliced his shot off target. Donadoni made a change on
54 minutes, taking off Materazzi, who was having a stinker, and bringing on
Fabio Grosso, meaning that Panucci moved into the centre.
were much more purposeful after the break. Toni took the ball down well and
turned at shot, but it was easy for Van der Sar.
On 63 minutes Pirlo tried to catch out Van der Sar at his
near post from a free kick, and his effort was not too far wide. Moments later Alessandro
Del Piero replaced Di Natale as Italy
desperately looked for some inspiration.
He immediately got into the action, finding an angle on the
edge of the area, and hitting a trademark curler, but it was straight at the
were now playing a containing game, and in a rare second half effort, Van der
Vaart curled a free kick over the bar.
Del Piero was looking lively, and he cut inside his marker
on the left and curled over the bar.
Donadoni finally introduced Cassano, strangely waiting 15
minutes from the end to introduce the volatile star in place of Camoranesi,
while Van Persie replaced Van Nistelrooy for the Dutch.
Cassano showed his brilliance immediately, with a simply
magnificent chipped through ball for Toni, but with only the keeper to beat, he
disappointingly turned the ball well over.
were dominating now, and Grosso was next to be one-on-one but again he shot
straight at Van der Sar, when it seemed easier to score. The ball was then
hacked away by the Dutch defence.
On 78 minutes Van der Sar pulled off a simply world class
save to turn away Pirlo’s free kick. Holland
went straight down the other end. Buffon saved a one-on-one from Kuyt, but the
ball was put back into the box, and Van Bronckhorst headed past Buffon via a
deflection off Zambrotta. It was now certainly game over.
Grosso fired over a free kick, before Dutch substitute
Ibrahim Afellay nearly made it four with a searing shot that skimmed the bar.
Van Persie also went close on 88 minutes, skipping past
Barzagli, before flashing a shot inches wide from the angle.
The ball just didn’t want to go in for Italy. Toni
held the ball up for Ambrosini, whose shot from six yards was somehow deflected
The Netherlands thus go top after what was most definitely a deserved win, while Italy are now rock bottom, and will crash out of the tournament if they lose to Romania.
Van der Sar, Boulahrouz (Heitinga 76), Ooijer, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst, De
Jong, Engelaar, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Kuyt (Affelay 81), Van Nistelrooy (Van Persie 70)
Buffon, Panucci, Barzagli, Materazzi (Grosso 55), Zambrotta, Gattuso, Pirlo,
Ambrosini, Camoranesi (Cassano 75), Toni, Di Natale (Del Piero 63)