The Netherlands ended a 30-year wait for a victory over Italy in emphatic fashion as they began their Group C campaign with a rousing 3-0 win against the world champions in Berne, according to UEFA.
Worst EURO defeat
Ruud van Nistelrooy side-footed the Oranje ahead in the 26th minute, a lead doubled superbly by his Real Madrid CF colleague Wesley Sneijder soon after. Edwin van der Sar, becoming only the third player to appear in four UEFA European Championships, then kept the advantage intact, leaving Giovanni van Bronckhorst to complete the scoring with a headed third in the 79th minute. The Netherlands can now look forward with confidence to Friday`s meeting with France, while Italy must recover from a worst-ever EURO defeat when they face Romania.
With coaches Marco van Basten and Roberto Donadoni schooled under Arrigo Sacchi at AC Milan an attacking treat was always in store. And so it proved, Antonio Di Natale narrowly failing to free Luca Toni in only the second minute. The FC Bayern München striker did get a glimpse of goal in the 12th minute, rising to flick a header wide from an equally promising position, yet from then on the Dutch dominated the half. Dirk Kuyt outmuscled Gianluca Zambrotta on 18 and slipped a delicious low ball to Van Nistelrooy who touched it beyond the outrushing Gianluigi Buffon but stayed on his feet after making contact with the Italy captain. That was the last act of charity from the Dutch, as the Azzurri paid for the concession of a number of free-kicks on the periphery of their area.
Sneijder first fizzed one set-piece in from the left which Marco Materazzi headed clear. Then Rafael van der Vaart did likewise from the right, the scrambling Buffon`s punched clearance eventually reaching birthday boy Sneijder whose powerful drive from the corner of the box was turned in by Van Nistelrooy as defenders appealed for offside. Italy went close to levelling from a 31st-minute corner yet were caught flat-footed when Van Bronckhorst, who had cleared off the line, was able to charge half the length of the field unchallenged.
The Feyenoord man had time to ping a perfect crossfield ball to the industrious Kuyt whose cushioned header was spectacularly hooked inside Buffon`s near post by the leaping Sneijder. Italy`s three-man midfield of Gennaro Gattuso, Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini could not contain Sneijder as he probed the left side, creating space for Van Bronckhorst and Van der Vaart, who dissected an Azzurri back line missing injured captain Fabio Cannavaro with a pass that released Van Nistelrooy on goal. Buffon stood tall, however, clipping the shot over with his feet.
Van der Sar saves
Italy sought a way back into the match after the break. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero failed to profit from two half-chances before Toni lofted a shot over when free on 76 minutes. Van der Sar then foiled Fabio Grosso at close range before diving at full stretch to keep out a Pirlo free-kick, leaving Van Bronckhorst to wrap things up at the other end following smart work by Kuyt. The last time the Netherlands beat Italy they went on to reach the 1978 FIFA World Cup final - a lucky omen as they look to claim a first European crown since Van Basten volleyed them to glory in 1988.