Italy 0-3 Netherlands (Nistelrooy 26′, Sneijder 31′, Bronckhorst 79′)
Stade de Suisse, Berne
9 June 2008
Kick-off: 20:45 (CET)
The Group of Death rears its ugly head as two world-class championship contenders go head-to-head in this opening round match. The main storyline coming into this match was about the players who aren’t going to play, rather than the ones who are fit. Both the World Cup champion Azzurri and the perennial dark-horse Oranje limp in with a number of big-time injuries to key players. Ryan Babel is out and Robin Van Persie is questionable for the Netherlands while Italy suffered a huge blow when they lost their skipper, Fabio Cannavaro, for the tournament. Despite all the injuries, there’s plenty of world-class talent on both sides. As such, we should be in for a great match between two highly-skilled squads.
Netherlands: Van der Sar, Van Bronckhorst, Mathijsen, Ooijer, Boulahrouz, Van der Vaart, Engelaar, De Jong, Sneijder, Van Nistelrooy, Kuyt.
I guess I better get used to typing in “van.” Van Nistelrooy, Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Van Halen, Van Wilder, Van Helsing.
Italy: Buffon, Materazzi, Panucci, Zambrotta, Barzagli, Gattuso, Pirlo, Camoranesi, Ambrosini, Toni, Di Natale
Italy likes to switch things up, so I wouldn’t bet on them sticking with the 4-4-2.
Look at the names on these squads. Clearly, these teams aren’t hurting for talent.
We have two goalkeepers as the captains, which is somewhat rare. Interestingly, Van der Sar lost his place at Juventus to Buffon. I wonder if Gigi reminded him of that when they exchanged pre-match handshakes.
5:00 — The Italians are notoriously slow out of the gate. Look for the Netherlands to push early on. Van Nistelrooy introduces himself to Buffon as the entry pass takes a weird bounce. Italy comes back and has a great chance, as Di Natale whips a great cross across the box. Toni can’t handle it, though.
8:00 — Van Nistelrooy’s shot is blocked by Materazzi. I wonder if Marco will talk about Ruud’s sister.
9:00 — We have our first horrific-injury where the guy rolls around like he’s been shot only to pop up as if everything’s okay once the ref blows his whistle, a la Wile E. Coyote. Gennaro “The Snarling Dog” Gattuso takes down Van der Vaart. Then Van Nistelrooy goes down outside the box. Arsenal fans are cursing right now. Sneijder wastes the free-kick, though, as he hits his own guy. Van der Vaart gets it back and shoots on Buffon. No trouble for the Juventus man, though.
11:00 — The commentators remark that Kuyt has been invisible so far. Liverpool supporters understand that all too well. Luca Toni has a great opportunity in the box, but angles the shot wide. If he had taken his time a little bit, he might have scored. Toni showed why he was such a great signing by Bayern Munich, though. He created the space and got some great air on the header attempt.
15:00 — Van Nistelrooy hits an optimistic long-range shot that doesn’t trouble Buffon. That’s a little out of his range, but not a bad shot. Might as well see if he can catch Buffon napping. Unfortunately for the Netherlands, they’re facing Gigi Buffon and not Paul Robinson or Scott Carson.
17:00 — Great opportunity for Van Nistelrooy as Kuyt springs the Real Madrid target man with a great through-ball. Buffon looks like he might have tripped him, but the replay shows that Ruud just slipped on his own feet. To his credit, Van Nistelrooy doesn’t dive and act like he’s been fouled. I wonder if Arsene Wenger is watching. Great goalkeeping by Buffon to avoid the penalty. He might have been sent off if he had taken Van Nistelrooy down, so a brilliant play on many levels.
20:00 — Both teams have had their chances, and the game seems to be settling into a groove.
22:00 — Italy gets a free-kick opportunity, but Luca Toni can’t handle Pirlo’s entry pass.
24:00 — Another great opportunity for the Dutch, as De Jong whips in a cross towards Van Nistelrooy, but Materazzi saves it for the corner. Good thing he got his head on that one. Van Nistelrooy was right behind him, and anyone who’s watched Van Nistelrooy over the years knows that’s his bread-and-butter.
26:00 — Van Nistelrooy scores! Van der Vaart whips in a free kick that Buffon punches out. The ball then goes towards Van Nistelrooy who re-directs it past Buffon. Hmm… Van Nistelrooy looked like he was off-sides, and the Italians all have their hands raised as if they were doing a deodorant commercial. Van Nistelrooy even looks unsure about the goal, as he sneaks a few nervous looks at the linesman before going into his goal celebration.
27:00 — Interesting how Buffon went to punch the ball instead of trying to catch it. Jens Lehmann said that the ball was giving him problems and he predicted that goalies would try to punch it instead of trying to catch it. He did have a guy close to him, but he could have caught that ball. There was a defender who was situated out-of-bounds since Buffon pushed one of his guys away. Maybe the refs thought he was keeping Van Nistelrooy on-sides?
30:00 — The Italians have to try and score now. Thank goodness. Otherwise, they’d be more than content to sit on a 1-0 lead with their 10-0-0 formation. Pirlo whips in a nice cross that Zambrotta flicks towards the box, Van Bronckhorst clears off the line and the Dutch are counter-attacking. Kuyt sends it to Sneijder puts it in past Buffon. No controversy about this one. 2-nil, Netherlands. What a great counter-attack and a wonderful shot by Sneijder! The ball almost went over his head. When did this turn into a Premiership match?
32:00 — Wow! Back the other way, and Italy has a great chance. Camoranesi sends a cross towards Di Natale who shoots a rocket at Van der Sar. The Man U. goalkeeper is equal to the task, though.
35:00 — Gattuso sends in a cross, but the Frothing Doberman’s effort is easily handled by Van der Sar.
38:00 — They show Cannavaro on the bench. They sure miss him right now. Gattuso sends in another cross towards a streaking Di Natale, but the Rabid Pit Bull’s effort is short.
40:00 — Dirk Kuyt with a great steal, but then he gives it away to Camoranesi. Luckily for the Orange, the shot is well wide. I was just about to praise Kuyt, too. Oh well.
42:00 — Van Nistelrooy is free and is one-on-one with Buffon. Buffon with a great save to deny Van Nistelrooy! Wow! Should have been 3-nil there. Van Nistelrooy should have done better with that. I can’t believe he didn’t score. He used to put those away in his sleep when he played at Old Trafford. Man, the Italians look shell-shocked. I don’t think anyone expected this.
45:00 — Some sloppy defense from the Orange as the ball bounces to Di Natale. Di Natale lets loose with a vicious volley that goes over the cross-bar. That’s why this game isn’t over. The Netherlands defense is suspect, and they have a history of choking in big international matches. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Italians change things up at halftime and bring on some more firepower. Maybe we’ll see Del Piero.
Here we go with the 2nd Half. No changes for either team. Not sure what Coach Donadoni is thinking. He watched the same first half that we all did, right?
46:00 — Good chance for the Italians as Pirlo sends in the cross to the near post. Panucci sends it wide, though. Back the other way as Van Nistelrooy takes on Gattuso, and the Ill-Tempered Canine gets the best of him.
48:00 — No call on Van Nistelrooy as he is clearly fouled right outside the box. Maybe it was a make-up for the off-sides non-call. I’m sure that’s of little consolation to the Italians, though.
50:00 — Another no-call as the refs seem to be letting them play. Either this approach will stop all the flopping, or it will lead to a really nasty foul that earns someone a card. Sure enough, it’s Gattuso as the Irritable Rottweiler gets the yellow.
53:00 — Zambrotta nearly made it a game as he creates a fantastic opportunity that goes wide of the box. Who was guarding him, or rather, not guarding him, on that play? Our friend, Dirk Kuyt.
54:00 — Interesting substitution as Fabio Grosso replaces Materazzi. I guess there will be no headbutts in this game. Grosso’s good coming forward and he had that big goal against Germany in the World Cup. Maybe they’re hoping lightning will strike twice?
55:00 — Italy’s getting chances in this half. The Dutch defense looks a little out-of-whack. Will they rue that Van Nistelrooy miss?
58:00 — De Jong goes into the book as he gives the ball away and then cheats to try and get it back. At least he showed some effort, right?
60:00 — Luca Toni turns in the box and fires a weak shot that is easily handled by Van der Sar. Got to do better than that if you want to beat Van der Sar.
63:00 — Italy win a free kick as Del Piero starts warming up. Pirlo goes for the goal as he catches Van der Sar cheating considerably to his left. The shot beats Van der Sar, but it’s wide of the mark. Good idea, though. Here comes Del Piero, who had a career renaissance this season with Juventus. Di Natale’s day is over.
64:00 — Gattuso sends a pass towards Del Piero, but he’s offsides. Good vision from the Foul Mannered Boxer.
65:00 — Del Piero then sends a shot towards Van der Sar, but the Dutchman makes a great save. Looks like Van der Sar isn’t having any problems catching the ball, but then again, that’s always been one of his strengths. Del Piero’s given the squad a nice jolt, though. Great substitution by Donadoni.
69:00 — Sneijder with a bad free kick that looks like he was aiming for one of those “hit it here” signs in the bleachers. This is where they miss Van Persie. Speak of the devil, here he comes for Van Nistelrooy. Del Piero with another shot on goal that goes over the cross bar.
72:00 — Van Persie with an optimistic shot that hits his own guy. If he could only stay healthy, there’s no telling how good this guy could be. Arsene Wenger is convinced that Arsenal would have won the league title if Van Persie had stayed healthy. I’m not sure about that, as Van Persie was fit when Arsenal dropped all those points and fell out of first place. Still, it speaks to his ability that Wenger values him that much.
74:00 — Antonio Cassano is on for Italy as Donadoni hopes that his young striker can make a difference here.
75:00 — Great chance for Luca Toni as Cassano sends in a beautiful pass, leaving the Bayern man one-on-one with Van der Sar. Toni with a terrible touch, though, and it goes over the crossbar. Nothing’s going right for Italy. Meanwhile, the Dutch bring in Heitinger for defensive purposes. Cassano and Del Piero have done a lot since they entered the game. Maybe Donadoni has something to think about for the next game.
77:00 — Great chance for Grosso as he waltzes past Kuyt and gets a great shot on goal. Van der Sar blocks it but can’t hold on. Luckily, it bounces to Heitinger, who clears it away. The Dutch aren’t making it easy, are they?
78:00 — Pirlo with a dangerous free kick that Van der Sar blocks. Great strike from Pirlo; that would have been a goal 90% of the time. The Dutch counterattack and Kuyt brings Buffon out of the box. Buffon stops Kuyt, but Kuyt sends a great cross to Van Bronckhorst, who heads it in for the goal. 3-nil, Netherlands. Very important goal for the Netherlands as it looked like Italy was about to score and make it interesting. Now, it looks like it’s all over. What a dangerous counter-attacking team!
81:00 — Afellay (who replaced Kuyt after the third goal) makes a great run into the box and hits the crossbar. Gigi Buffon needs a hug.
84:00 — Pirlo whips in a great corner that finds a wide-open Panucci. The Netherlands were napping and Van der Sar gives his defense an earful. Luckily for them, Panucci was napping, too. Both sides look like they’re waiting for the final whistle.
87:00 — Adrian Healey and Andy Gray are explaining the Van Nistelrooy goal. Apparently, the rule is that if a player steps off the playing surface deliberately, then he remains active. I think “deliberately” is the key word. Buffon threw Panucci to the ground, so maybe that’s why the ref thought Panucci was still part of the play. I’m not sure why he stayed down. Maybe he was trying to bait the ref into calling a foul. If so, then Italy got what they deserved. You can’t fool around with theatrics when the other team is camped out in your box, threatening to score.
89:00 — Van Persie glides past Barzagli and has a good chance that goes wide of the mark. That’s what he can do.
90:00 — Luca Toni with a chance to score a consolation goal. Good defense, though, as it’s deflected out for the corner. Nothing doing on the corner, though. Just blow the whistle already and put the Italians out of their misery…
And it’s over. It was a thoroughly entertaining match and a deserving win for the Dutch. As Dennis Green said, the Netherlands are who we thought they were: an explosive offense and suspect defense. They have some work to do, but with three points and a +3 goal differential, they’re clearly in the driver’s seat in the so-called Group of Death.
Meanwhile, the Italians have some soul-searching to do unless they want to go home early. The Azzurri didn’t play all that badly, and they had chances to score. They just couldn’t deal with the Dutch counter-attack and they clearly missed Cannavarro in the back as the defense got pushed around. You can’t count them out, though. They have too much talent and too much international experience. Still, with tough games left against France and Romania, I don’t like their chances.