Sport » Championships
Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

The Netherlands humiliate Italy 3-0 at Euro 2008

What for an encore after perfection? Any old win against France will do.

In the most surprising result since Greece won the European Championship four years ago, the Netherlands humiliated Italy 3-0 at Euro 2008 for the world champions' worst defeat in a quarter century.

"It is a perfect job," Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder said.

Reality sank in soon enough, though. On Friday, World Cup runner-up France is waiting.

"It was a historic feat. This was Italy, the world champion," Netherlands coach Marco van Basten said. "It's only the very first step. We have to see if we are able to repeat such a game against France and against Romania."

Despite having to face the headlines in the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy still lives for another day.

"We've got to be optimistic," coach Roberto Donadoni said. "That's one of the basics of our profession. Otherwise, there would be no reason to take the next plane to Zurich."

Still, the stunning defeat left World Cup goalkeeping hero Gianluigi Buffon with only one option.

"In the name of the entire team, I think I have to apologize to all the Italian fans," said Buffon, who comes from a country that invented the "catenaccio" - a ruthless and ironclad defense.

Then again, the Dutch perfected the "Clockwork Orange" way of switching seamlessly from defense to attack during the 1970s, and Monday was a thrilling trip down memory lane.

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 European Championship.

It leaves a team of veterans looking their age and facing elimination from the first round for the second straight European Championship.

For the Dutch, it was redemption after leaving the World Cup two years ago stained by one of the ugliest games with the most fouls in history, a 1-0 loss to Portugal involving four red cards and 16 yellow.

"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."

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.

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 Buffon with Italy defender Christian Panucci 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 on his 24th birthday. "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.

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 Italy's worst defeat since Oct. 15, 1983, when the team lost to Sweden 3-0 in Naples in a European Championship qualifier. Italy's biggest loss at the final tournament came in the 1988 semifinals when the Soviet Union won 2-0.

With three goals in one game, Italy already conceded one more goal than in the whole World Cup two years ago.

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."

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