The seventh day of Euro 2008 produced two games of the highest quality. The games were a joy to watch and gave a perfect example of why we call football, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe beautiful gameÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
The first game saw Italy fighting for survival in the competition after their comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Dutch. They knew that another defeat here, against Romania, would mean them seeing their friends and family again a little sooner than they would have hoped.
Romania, on the other hand would have been buoyed by their draw against France and were seriously looking at how they might be the surprise qualifiers from the so called Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgroup of deathÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
After watching Romania play in an organised, somewhat defensive way against France, and seeing Italy display little creative flair against Holland I have to say that I was expecting a dour, tactical battle. In fact, it turned out to be an open, attacking and entertaining game right from the start. Both teams knew that a win would put them in a great position and they both went for it.
In an exciting first half there were several chances at both ends with Romania coming the closest as a Chivu free-kick was deflected against a post. However, shortly before half-time Toni headed home for Italy, only to see the offside flag cut short his joy. It was a very tight decision.
The second half, if anything, was even better than the first half! In the fifty-seventh minute Romania took the lead when Adrian Mutu latched onto a poor header back from Zambrotta and brilliantly lashed the ball home past the advancing Buffon.
Within seconds, Italy won a corner at the other end and Chiellini headed across the goal for Panucci to tap into an empty net.
The game became an end to end affair with both sides knowing that a draw may not be enough. Both keepers had to perform well to keep the scores level and then as the end of the game approached, we had late drama as the referee awarded Romania a penalty when Panucci dragged down Daniel Niculae at a corner. As with the Austria penalty before, there is no doubt that it was a foul, but we rarely see them given as penalties.
The excellent Adrian Mutu stepped up for Romania and blasted the penalty with great power to BuffonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s left. The Italian keeper got a strong hand to the ball and deflected it onto his foot and managed to clear the ball to safety with a breath taking save. His celebrations showed just how important that save could prove to be.
Everyone had only an hour or so to get their breath back after that game before the action moved to Berne and the exciting Holland team took on the disappointing French. Henry was back for France and they started the game looking a lot sharper than they had against Romania.
Despite a decent start France found themselves behind after just ten minutes when Dirk Kuyt headed home from a corner. The marking by Malouda was nothing short of abysmal, which summed his performances in this tournament so far.
Holland were the better side in the first half with Van Nistelrooy giving a master class in how to play as a loan striker and Wesley Sneijder giving a master class in simply how to play. France came back at Holland in the last fifteen minutes of the first half and threatened an equaliser on several occasions.
At half-time, Holland introduced Arjen Robben to the action. France started the second half well and again went close. There were huge shouts for a penalty when a goal bound Henry shot was blocked by the hand of Ooijer. The referee decided it was accidental and waved away the protests. It was a difficult call and we have all seen penalties given in similar circumstances.
France then had a great chance to equalise when Henry ran through on his own but chipped the ball over Van Der Saar and disastrously for France, well over the bar as well.
Holland had introduced Robin Van Persie to the action and together with Robben the other substitute they combined to double HollandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lead. Robben raced away down the left following great skill from Van Nistlerooy and crossed for Van Persie to sweep home.
As we thought the game was out of FranceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reach they hit back when Henry finally found his finishing boots to deftly deflect the ball past Van Der Saar from a Sagnol cross.
FranceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hopes were dashed within a minute however as Robben fired home brilliantly from a ridiculous angle to give the Dutch a 3-1 lead.
The outstanding Sneijder then almost created a fourth for the wonderful Ruud van Nistelrooy with a stunning 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 glorious 20-yard finish that flew high past Coupet to give the Dutch a deserved 4-1 win.
It is difficult to describe just how good Holland have been. Maybe it is best explained by saying that they have beaten the two world cup finalists by three clear goals and neither Italy nor France have played particularly poorly. Holland have just been sensational.
The Orange will take a lot of stopping now. The Italy against France game on Tuesday evening now takes on almost as much significance as their world cup meeting two years ago.
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