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Holland cruise into quarters, France on verge of elimination

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 13 Jun 2008

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France stood on the brink of elimination Friday after Holland maintained their dream start with a 4-1 win over the 2000 champions here to book their place in the quarter-finals

Goals from Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder and second half substitutes Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben knocked the stuffing out of France and left the Oranje army marching on to join Portugal and Croatia in the last eight.

For France, this defeat, coming on top of their opening draw with Romania, meant their first major finals without Zinedine Zidane are turning into a nightmare and they now must beat world champions Italy in their final Group C clash.

With just one point they not only need to beat the Azzurri but also pray Holland can beat Romania, who are on two points, also on Tuesday.

“As long as our destiny is in our own hands we can go through. We must not give in. We must play a high-level match we are capable of” against the Italians,” said France coach Raymond Domenech, who wielded the axe on the side that failed to fire in the goalless draw with Romania.

He notably brought back Thierry Henry, who at least netted a consolation.

“It's a shame,” said Henry. “At 2-1 we could have given them cause to doubt, but they got their third right from the restart. Now we have to go out and beat Italy.”

In contrast to Domenech, his Holland counterpart Marco van Basten was a picture of contentment, the former Dutch great saying: “We can only be happy after first beating the world champions 3-0 and France 4-1.

“We were a little lucky today, we made goals at the right time. I want to congratulate our defence and the whole team for their healthy spirit.

“To be number one in the group is very positive for us.”

Aside from the inclusion of Henry, France's all-time top scorer, who was fully recovered from a thigh problem that kept him out of Monday's drab opener.

Domenech also introduced Sidney Govou, this pair replacing Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema.

Domenech made one further switch, replacing defender Eric Abidal with Manchester United's Patrice Evra while Patrick Vieira was on the bench.

Van Basten in contrast to his Gallic counterpart, adopted the maxim 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', naming an unchanged side from the one that felled world champions Italy 3-0 in their opening Group C game with Robben, who missed that game with a groin strain, starting on the bench.

France from the off were a more urgent purposeful and menacing outfit compared to four days ago in Zurich with Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda combining well up the left flank.

But the Dutch it was who took a 10th-minute lead, Kuyt heading in Rafael van der Vaart's corner from the left to the delight of the fans, who included Johan Cruyff at the Stade de Suisse.

The draw earlier Friday between Romania and Italy meant France really had to get something out of the game or face having to pack their bags.

With their backs to the wall they only had one option – to attack – and in the 22nd minute went close to equalising when Ribery played in a great ball from the right only for Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar to save Govou's angled shot.

Down at the other end Sneijder, who had left such a mark on the Italian defence, tried a long range effort which was safely gathered up by Gregory Coupet.

As half time approached Henry, who had not seen much of the ball, showed what a threat he could pose when turning on the edge of the box and shooting just over the crossbar.

Van Basten introduced Robben for Orlando Engelaar at the start of the second half which was barely seconds old when Henry flew in a cross from the right only for Giovanni van Bronckhorst to knock it to safety.

In the 50th minute the French then made heated protests for a penalty claiming Andre Ooijer had handled a shot from Govou in the box but they were dismissed by German referee Herbert Fandel.

“It's a shame there was no recourse to video,” said Domenech afterwards.

France were all over the Dutch at this point and Malouda's enterprising overhead bicycle kick found Henry on a one-on-one with van der Sar but the Barcelona striker's extravagant lob went sailing over the bar.

Van Basten them made his second switch, bringing on van Persie for Kuyt.

Both his changes proved masterful as in the 59th minute Robben raced down the left wing to cross for van Persie whose shot slid over the line despite Coupet getting a hand to it.

France got the goal they deserved in the 71st minute after a cute angled cross from Sagnol was flicked past van der Sar by Henry near the far post.

But that only served to spur the Dutch on and one minute later a flash of individual brilliance from Robben made it 3-1, the winger racing down the left and shooting high into the near corner of Coupet's goal.

Sneijder rounded off the night, flashing in the fourth in injury time.

The only consolation for him and his team came from the spirited manner that France succumbed to a Dutch team that underlined its status as one of the favourites for the European crown.

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