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Van Basten in dreamland after perfect Italian job at Euro 2008

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 10 Jun 2008

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Marco van Basten believes Holland have earned the right to dream of glory at Euro 2008 after their 3-0 demolition of world champions Italy kicked the tournament into life.

Holland's first win over the Italians in three decades and Italy's heaviest defeat in 25 years has left the Dutch in control of a 'group of death' that also includes France and Romania, whose turgid goalless draw could not have been further removed from the exhilarating encounter served up here on Monday evening.

For the Dutch coach, the manner of the victory was every bit as important as its unlikely scale.

“To beat the world champions playing football to the last minute — it was for us a very nice game and also a historical game,” he said. “We have never beaten Italy by three goals.

“If you think we were without players like Arjen Robben and Ryan Babel, the players reacted in a wonderful way. They fought like a team and if the spirit is like it was tonight, with all the quality we have, we can have nice dreams.”

There was an element of good fortune about the Dutch opening goal, Ruud van Nistelrooy appearing to be in an offside position when he turned in Wesley Sneijder's ferociously struck shot mid-way through the first half.

That inevitably transformed the pattern of the match and the Dutch exploited the opportunity to pick off their opponents on the counter-attack with two end-to-end moves that resulted in goals for man-of-the-match Sneijder, five minutes after van Nistelrooy's opener, and the equally outstanding Gio van Bronckhorst, ten minutes from the end.

“Hopefully we can preserve the spirit we displayed on the pitch tonight and continue in the same vein against France and Romania,” added van Basten.

“It only the very first step and we know very well that we are back to square one if we lose against France in our next match.”

Long before the Dutch opened the scoring, it was apparent that Italy would miss the commanding influence of their injured World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro in their defence.

Marco Materazzi took Cannavaro's place in the centre of defence but filling the former world player of the year's boots was to prove beyond the Inter Milan veteran, who was substituted ten minutes into the second half.

Despite a defeat which will put him under severe pressure, Italy coach Roberto Donadoni voiced confidence that his players could turn things around.

“The game started badly for us and ended up worse but it is already history,” said van Basten's former team-mate at AC Milan.

“We made mistakes and paid for them but now we have to look forward to the Romania game, which is going to be critical now.”

Donadoni rejected suggestions that his squad had approached the match lightly. “I don't think there was any complacency. Winning the World Cup is not a sufficient goal for us and we have been working very hard and professionally in preparing for this tournament for the last two years.

“The result was not good, obviously, and we are not happy about it but we are going to work to ensure we react to it and improve.”

Donadoni declined to criticise Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt over the decision to allow van Nistelrooy's goal, and the official was backed up by chairman of Austria's refereeing commission.

Gerhard Kapl said Peter Frojdfeldt had been “100 percent correct” to award the goal because injured Italy defender Christian Panucci had played the striker onside despite being behind the goalline and out of action.

There was no debate about Holland's second goal, which provided evidence that Total Football is alive and well in the Netherlands.

Having cleared Andrea Pirlo's corner off his own line, van Bronckhorst immediately sprinted forward to pick up a pass from Rafael van der Vart on the left and send in a cross that Dirk Kuyt knocked down for Sneijder to smash past Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy did not get going until Alessandro del Piero and Antonio Cassano entered the fray in the second half and the Dutch had Edwin van der Sar to thank for keeping out Fabio Grosso's low drive and one of Pirlo's trademark freekicks with a couple of superb saves.

As the Italians pressed however, gaps appeared at the back and the Dutch took advantage with another counter-attack of breathtaking fluency that finished with van Bronckhorst nodding in Dirk Kuyt's chip with their opponents' defence in utter disarray.

Poor starts in major tournaments are nothing new for Italy but, on this evidence, a World Cup and Euro double looks a tall order for Donadoni's men.

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