Devastating Dutch too strong for Italians
Italy slumped to their first ever defeat at
the opening match of a European Championships on Monday as the Azzurri were
beaten 3-0 by the Netherlands in a Euro 2008 Group C game played in Berne.
First-half goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy, which the Italians claimed was offside, and Wesley Sneijder put the Dutch firmly in the driving seat at half-time.
Italy came more into the game after the break and came close to reducing the deficit through efforts from Fabio Grosso and Andrea Pirlo but Giovanni van Bronckhorst capped a remarkable night for Marco van Basten's side with a third 10 minutes from time.
Roberto Donadoni's team went into the game with the statistics firmly on their side, having lost only twice to the Dutch in 15 internationals and having beaten them on penalties the only other time they met at the Euro finals.
The Italian coach said his side had been too harmless at times in the game. "I don't want to talk too much about the first goal, it looked very much offside to me. But we have to accept the defeat.
"Our fitness was good. We created several chances towards the end. Sometimes it is like that, you create chances, but the other side scores the goals.
"We now need to think about the next two games and concentrate on them. The nice thing is that we are now playing against Romania and that will give us a chance to show our true worth. We just have to get the three points against them."
A capacity 30,700 crowd, most of them clad in orange and supporting the Dutch, saw their side in devastating form in the first half and fully deserving of their two-goal half-time lead.
The Oranjies were unlucky not to take the lead in the 19th minute after Ruud van Nistelrooy could have earned his side a penalty after being set up by Dirk Kuyt.
However, in a show of sportsmanship, the Real Madrid player did not go down when Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon touched him with his foot after the striker had pushed the ball past.
Van Nistelrooy was rewarded for his honesty just seven minutes later when Buffon managed to clear a Kuyt cross, but the ball fell to Wesley Sneijder.
The Real Madrid midfielder played a cross into the Italian six yard box, where an unmarked van Nistelrooy, played onside by Christian Panucci, who was lying behind the goalline after having crashed into his own goalkeeper, had a simple task of tapping in.
On the half-hour Sneijder, who was celebrating his 24th birthday, added another for the Dutch when he managed to score a spectacular goal from an acute angle after running on to a Kuyt cross.
A brilliant defence-splitting Rafael van der Vaart pass nearly gave Van Nistelrooy his second of the game two minutes from the break but Buffon was quickly off his line to block the shot.
Italy were much stronger in the second half and created a number of half chances, without putting Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar under any real pressure until the last quarter of the game.
Donadoni brought on Alessandro del Piero on the hour, but the 33- year-old Juventus stalwart failed to find a way through the compact Dutch defence.
Fabio Grosso came close for the Italians in the 78th minute and a minute later van der Sar saved brilliantly from an Andrea Pirlo free- kick.
Practically on the break the Dutch scored their third as Kuyt's cross found Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his header was pushed over the line by Gianluca Zambrotta.
Sneijder said he was proud of the team's performance. "It is always very important to do well in the first game and to win against Italy like that will give us a lot of confidence.
"I would not have dreamed of such a start."
Dutch coach van Basten downplayed his side's victory. "I do not think that we are now favourites, even though we played well.
"I did not expect such a result because we were playing against Italy and they have so much experience and quality. It was a very good team performance from our side and if we show such team effort, then our qualities can come out and we can do well.
"We still have two important games. The French are very good and we had our troubles with Romania in the qualifiers, so it will not be easy."
The result sees Italy under tremendous pressure to avoid a similar fate as they did in two of the last three Euro finals, where they were knocked out in the first round, dpa reported.