Saturday, June 14, 2008

Group C : Holland vs France

Netherlands reached the last eight of Euro 2008 and topped Group C with a superb win against France, who are now fighting to survive in the tournament.

Dirk Kuyt headed the Dutch in front after only 10 minutes.

Substitute Robin van Persie turned in Arjen Robben's cross on the hour, before Thierry Henry pulled one back from close range with 19 minutes left.

Robben's angled finish seconds later sunk France and Wesley Sneijder added a fourth from 20 yards in injury time.

The Dutch delivered another masterclass in ruthless finishing and the victory was a tactical triumph for coach Marco van Basten, who saw substitutes Van Persie and Robben emerge to play crucial roles in the win.

France, like Italy before them, had opportunities against the Dutch but were exposed by the brilliant counter-attacking style that has become the trademark of Van Basten's side.

Italy's earlier draw with Romania leaves them both battling with France to reach the quarter-finals.

And the so-called "group of death" will climax with a mouth-watering repeat of the 2006 World Cup final when France and Italy meet in Zurich on Tuesday, with survival in the tournament the potential prize.

The first goal was always going to prove crucial in Berne - and it was the Dutch who struck after only 10 minutes.

Rafael van der Vaart's corner evaded Henry at the near post and Kuyt out-muscled Florent Malouda to head past Gregory Coupet.

And Kuyt could have added a second shortly afterwards when Lilian Thuram made a mess of Giovanni van Bronckhorst's long ball, but the Liverpool striker lofted his finish off target.

France took their time to settle, but once they did they posed a genuine threat, with Sydney Govou twice shooting straight at Edwin van der Sar and Franck Ribery also forcing a save from the Manchester United keeper.

Dutch coach Van Basten made a change at half-time, replacing the ineffective Orlando Engelaar with Robben.

But it was France who picked up where they left off, with Henry's cross almost setting up Ribery a minute after the re-start.

France then had penalty appeals waved away when Henry's goal-bound shot struck Andre Ooijer's arm, but German referee Herbert Fandel ignored the claims.

Ruud van Nistelrooy is surprised by the Dutch side's form

Henry was then involved in the game's pivotal moment after 53 minutes when he was sent clear by Chelsea winger Malouda's over-head kick. Henry at his peak would surely have finished off the move, but only lobbed well over the bar with Van der Sar stranded.

The Netherlands took advantage of the reprieve to add a second with the sort of lightning counter-attack that destroyed Italy in their first group game.

Robben raced down the left flank and crossed for the incoming Van Persie - who was on for Kuyt - to sweep a finish past Coupet, despite the France keeper getting a hand to the ball.

France were thrown a lifeline with 19 minutes left when Henry beat Van der Sar with the faintest of touches from Willy Sagnol's superb cross - but hope was short-lived.

The Dutch swept downfield immediately and Robben, who had delivered a magnificent cameo, took Sneijder's pass and rifled a finish high past Coupet from a tight angle.

Sneijder then almost created a fourth for Ruud van Nistelrooy with a stunning raking pass that the striker met with a looping header that forced Coupet into a scrambled save.

But Sneijder was not to be denied and rounded off the win with a flourish with a glorious 20-yard finish that flew high past Coupet deep into injury time.

Holland: Van der Sar, Boulahrouz, Ooijer, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst, De Jong, Engelaar (Robben 46), Kuyt (Van Persie 55), Van der Vaart (Bouma 78), Sneijder, van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Timmer, Stekelenburg, Heitinga, De Zeeuw, Melchiot, De Cler, Huntelaar, Afellay, Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Booked: Ooijer.

Goals: Kuyt 10, Van Persie 59, Robben 72, Sneijder 90.

France: Coupet, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Evra, Govou (Anelka 75), Toulalan, Makelele, Malouda (Gomis 60), Ribery, Henry.
Subs Not Used: Mandanda, Frey, Boumsong, Abidal, Vieira, Benzema, Nasri, Clerc, Squillaci, Diarra.

Booked: Makelele, Toulalan.

Goals: Henry 71.

Att: 32,000

Ref: Herbert Fandel (Germany).

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