The Netherlands defeated France, 4-1, and advance to the next round
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Once again, it’s time for the Group of Death as the Netherlands take on France. Holland is coming off a rousing opening match demolition of the reigning World Cup champions while France struggled to an uninspiring scoreless draw with Romania that many have dubbed “The Most Boring Match in the Euros So Far.” Any match in the Group of Death is a must-win, so expect both teams to go all-out for the three points.
Both squads have serious “Jekyll and Hyde” complexes in that you never know which team will show up. Will we see the flying Dutchmen whose devastating attack and bend-but-don’t-break defense flummoxed the Italians? Or will see the return of the choke-artist “Netherlans” squad (as in no “D”)? As for the French, will we see more of the same kind of uninspired and disjointed play from a bunch of guys who look like they’ve never played together before like we did in the Romania match? Or will their numerous world-class players finally show up and play the way they did at the 2006 World Cup?
As such, both squads have a lot to prove in this clash. The Oranje are out to show that their opener was no fluke and that they deserve to be mentioned among the favorites for the Euro 2008 crown. They’ll also be looking to exorcise a few ghosts along the way (Euro 2000 and 2004, and the 98 and 06 World Cups come to mind). As for Les Bleus, they have to show that they can win without Zidane. The French haven’t looked that impotent on offense since the 2002 World Cup when Zizou missed most of the first round with injuries. They also struggled to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, which prompted Zidane to end his international retirement. Makelele, Vieira, Thuram, Gallas, and Henry could cement their reputations as big-time international players, or they can confirm what a lot of people already believe — that they all piggy-backed off Zidane’s brilliance.
The Netherlands hope to get free-kick specialist Robin Van Persie back into the starting lineup. Rising-star Klaus-Jean Huntelaar might be available, however veterans Arjen Robben and Mario Melchiot are probably going to miss out. As for France, everything hinges on whether or not captain Patrick Vieira and star striker Thierry Henry are fit. The French attack (or lack thereof) suffered as Karim Benzema had a worse coming-out party than Euro Disney while Nicholas Anelka looked like he would have rather relived his entire Real Madrid career than be on the pitch for his country.
Which teams will show up for the Netherlands and for France? We’ll soon find out…
Netherlands: Van der Sar (captain), Van Bronckhorst, Mathijsen, Ooijer, Boulahrouz, Van der Vaart, Engelaar, De Jong, Sneijder, van Nistelrooy, Kuyt.
Subs: Melchiot, Heitinga, Robben, Bouma, Vennegoor, Stekelenburg, Timmer, De Cler, Van Persie, Huntelaar, De Zeeuw, Afellay
Why tinker with a team that spanked the World Cup Champions 3-0? The Dutch start out again with their 4-2-3-1 formation with van Nistelrooy as the lone striker. I’d expect Van Persie to play at some point. And, of course, the Huntelaar Watch continues…
France: Coupet, Gallas, Sagnol, Thuram (captain), Evra, Malouda, Makelele, Govou, Toulalan, Ribery, Henry.
Subs: Vieira, Abidal, Boumsong, Anelka, Frey, Squillaci, Clerc, Gomis, Nasri, Benzema, Diarra, Mandanda.
Hmm… Very interesting. France goes with the lone striker and Govou gets the start in midfield. As expected, Benzema and Anelka go to the bench as Henry gets the start. Vieira must be hurt worse than originally thought, otherwise he would be out there for a game as big as this one. Evra, who had a great season at Manchester United, gets the start at left back as Abidal goes to the bench.
Minute by Minute
0′ It’s Friday the 13th! It’s the Group of Death!! How morbid is this?
0′ The teams march onto the field. It’s anthem time, and the French sing “La Marseillaise.” I’m sorry, whenever I hear this song, I think of Glass Joe’s entrance theme from “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!” I guess the Glass Joe comparison is appropriate, especially when talking about Nicholas Anelka. Sounds like there are a lot of French fans in the audience, which is appropriate since this is Switzerland. The Dutch then sing “Het Wilhelmus.” Once again, there are a lot of Dutch in attendance. One thing that the Dutch had in their favor was that they had a de-facto home game against Italy. Looks like that won’t be the case here. We’ll call the sing-off a draw.
0′ France kicks off and we’re underway!
1′ A couple fouls early as the Dutch get called twice. Let them play, ref!
2′ Van Nistelrooy gets a shot, but there’s no power behind it. Sneijder wanted it, but Ruud ignored him.
3′ Makelele flattens Kuyt with a flying forearm. I think he was trying out for the WWE there.
5′ Malouda sends in a good cross into the box for Ribery. The Bayern Munich star heads it towards the goal, but it’s off target. Zidane would have scored there.
6′ Ribery sends a long pass to Henry that’s too long and is easily corralled by Van der Sar. Good idea, though. Henry needs service like that if he’s going to be effective.
8′ Van Bronckhorst with a great pass to Kuyt, but Gallas knocks it out. Great defense by Gallas.
9′ GOAL! Kuyt knocks it in off the corner. He got mauled by Malouda, too. Great goal by Kuyt. Hey, I’ve been on Kuyt like a bad suit, but that was a great sequence from him.
11′ Netherlands on the attack again, Van Nistelrooy’s effort is blocked by Malouda. What a terrible start for France.
14′ French on the attack. Ribery steals it and goes one-on-three with the Dutch defense. He loses the ball, of course. Well, at least Ribery came to play for the French.
15′ Sneijder with a shot outside the box, but it’s wide.
17′ Ribery is in the middle of another one-on-three moment as he tries to keep possession with three Dutch guys all over him. Meanwhile, the Dutch on the attack again, as they show off their pretty passing leading to a Van Nistelrooy effort that’s blocked. The Dutch are playing with such fluidity right now. The class between these two squads, right now, is wider than the Grand Canyon.
19′ Thuram and Coupet have some miscommunication in the box, and Kuyt gets another shot on goal. Luckily for the French, Coupet is able to force Kuyt to alter his shot.
21′ Wow, the French already have guys warming up. Maybe we should rename Coach Raymond Domenech, “Captain Hook.”
22′ French on the attack and Sagnol sends it into the box for Govou. Govou with a great shot on goal that Van der Sar blocks with his leg. On the replay, it looks like Van der Sar wasn’t expecting it at all. On the ensuing corner, the ball is deflected out to Evra, who sends in a shot/pass into the box. Van der Sar easily takes it, though.
24′ Ribery with another great run down the middle and he sends it to his left for Malouda. Ribery is causing all kinds of problems for the Dutch defense. Too bad his teammates aren’t helping him out.
26′ Boulahrouz with a nice cross across the box to… no one. The Dutch had van Nistelrooy make the throw-in. Otherwise, he might have been prowling around in the vicinity of that cross. Sometimes, it’s the little things.
29′ Makelele tries to play a through-ball to Henry, but the Dutch easily put a stop to it. Henry just doesn’t have the same kind of explosiveness he had at Arsenal. Nevertheless, he’s still better than Anelka.
31′ Ribery sends it to Evra, who gives it to Malouda on the right flank. Malouda sends it in to Govou, but the Dutch block it easily. Makelele gets carded for swinging an arm at Van der Vaart. Van der Vaart is still down and needs medical attention. Van Persie gets up for the Dutch. All this over an elbow?
33′ Malouda with the long-distance shot, but Van der Sar stops it easily. Malouda back down the right with a great run. He sends it to Ribery, who sends it across into the box. Henry whiffs on the kick, but it goes to Govou, who shoots on goal. Van der Sar stops it, though.
34′ Engelaar gives it away, Ribery is on the attack. He shoots, but it’s right at Van der Sar. Man. That’s three saves in succession for Van der Sar, and I don’t think he moved more than a few inches on any of them. At least the French seem to be waking up.
36′ Ribery on the left side this time and he sends an enticing cross across the goal. Unfortunately for him, but Henry and Malouda can’t get there in time. Good defense from Boulahrouz to hold up Henry. That had goal written all over it.
39′ Dutch play the ball possession game and set up their attack. Sneijder’s pass is too long for Kuyt, though. Coupet handles it easily.
40′ France on the attack. Sagnol with a cross towards Henry in the box, but it’s too long. They’re knocking on the door. The Dutch have to keep their nerves.
42′ Van Nistelrooy fouls Evra and it’s a battle of the Reds! Just kidding. They make nice afterwards. Meanwhile, Henry with a turnaround against Ooijer. It’s wide of the mark, but Henry seems to be coming alive.
44′ Malouda sends a good cross into the box for Govou, but Van Bronckhorst is there to put an end to that.
45′ 1 minute of added time. The Dutch counterattack, but Van der Vaart is brought down by two Bleus. No time for the free-kick as the ref blows the whistle.
I guess the Jekyll and Hyde metaphor was appropriate since there was definitely a dichotomy at work in the first half. The Dutch started out like gangbusters and looked like they were going to run the French off the field. They controlled the midfield and passed so well that you’d think you were watching the Globetrotters play the Generals. Before they could break out the confetti gag, though, the French woke up and started attacking. They asserted themselves in the midfield and generated numerous scoring chances. Luckily for the Dutch, their defense was up to the task and Edwin Van der Sar was his usual solid self. The French definitely had the momentum going into halftime, and they have a lot to be happy about. Still, they’ll need more help for Ribery if they want to win this match. I’d make a comment about bringing back Zidane for the second half, but he’s still suspended for the headbutt. Oh well…
Here we go with the second half:
45′ The Dutch make one change as Robben comes in for Engelaar. Interesting. I thought Engelaar played well in the first half. Plus, there were reports coming out that Robben wasn’t fit. I guess we’ll see how he does here.
46′ Henry blows past Kuyt and Ooijer and sends in a great cross to Ribery down the middle. Great defense from Van Bronckhorst to deny Ribery the equalizer. Nothing doing on the ensuing corner.
48′ Another great sequence for the French. Gallas shoots from long distance and it goes off a teammate towards Govou. Govou sends it to Henry who has a point-blank shot denied by Ooijer. The French are begging for a hand-ball, but no dice. It looked inadvertent on Ooijer’s part.
50′ Ooijer gets a yellow for a foul on Henry after he grabs Henry’s shoulder. That seemed pretty harsh.
51′ The ref admonishes Van der Sar for taking his time before goal-kicks. That’s a bad sign for the Dutch if they’re already stalling for time in the 51st minute.
53′ Van Bronckhorst gets caught out of position and Malouda gets a nice overhead kick to spring Henry. Henry is one-on-one and Van der Sar comes out. Henry tries to chip it over but he misses the goal. That was a great chance for France. Andy North is giving Henry grief, and he’s right. Henry should have done better than that.
55′ Van Persie comes on for Kuyt. Interesting strategy from the Dutch. Bringing on offensive minded players like Van Persie and Robben even though they’re leading. I guess they really want that insurance goal instead of sitting on the lead.
56′ Robben makes his presence felt as he makes a great run down the right flank and sends in a good cross to Sneijder. Sneijder heads it on goal, but Coupet is there for the easy stop. Back the other way and Sagnol short-circuits a promising French attack by crossing it over the crossbar.
57′ Dutch with a free kick outside the box and Sneijder kicks it right at Makelele. Whoa! Makelele ran towards Sneijder before he kicked it and was way closer than the requisite 10 yards. Should have been a re-kick.
58′ GOAL! Robben with a great run down the right and he crosses it into the box for Van Persie. Van Persie blasts it on goal and Coupet can’t handle it. The ball trickles past the goal-line and it’s 2-nil. I guess those subs worked out after all. Coupet really should have stopped that shot. A couple of unsung heroes on that goal: Van Nistelrooy did well to keep the ball in bounds to get it to Robben. Sneijder then drew the defense towards him by running into the box. Wow. What a great goal for the Dutch.
60′ Gomis is in for Malouda. Good idea since the French have to score. Meanwhile, Ribery comes back and gets a great shot on goal. Van der Sar pulls a Lehmann and punches it into the middle of the box. He usually catches those. I guess the ball is playing mindgames with him, too.
62′ Robben with a good effort on goal as Gallas and Evra fail to close him out. That last goal was deflating to them. No question about it. They look out of it.
64′ Vieira is up for the French. Is it too little too late?
65′ French on the attack and Henry slips a pass towards the box. The Dutch clear it, though. Van Persie steals it from Thuram and then crosses it to no one. He probably didn’t realize he was all alone, otherwise, he would have taken the shot.
67′ Govou heads it to Gomis, but Gomis’ touch is poor. I’m surprised they brought him in over Benzema, actually.
68′ Ribery with another great run. He sends it to Toulalan, who sends it to Sagnol. Sagnol hesitates, and the Dutch get possession. If this continues for the French, Ribery might be the only Frenchman who comes out of Euro 2008 with his reputation enhanced.
70′ GOAL!! Van Nistelrooy gets mauled and Sagnol and he’s running down the left flank. He crosses into the box and Henry is there for the goal. The French are alive!
71′ GOAL!! On second thought, maybe not. Robben comes right back and abuses Thuram for the goal. Great pass from Van der Vaart to spring Robben. Ouch. What a dagger!
74′ Here comes Anelka for Govou. Govou’s actually played well today, but the French need goals. Not sure what they’re going to get from Anelka, though. Meanwhile, Henry fouls his old teammate, Van Persie. They make nice afterwards.
75′ French on the attack and Gomis is fouled by Van Bronckhorst outside the box. Good chance for the French here. Will they convert? Ribery serves it to Henry, but the header goes wide.
77′ Evra challenges Van der Sar from long distance. It’s a good effort, but it’s wide. For the Dutch, Bouma comes in for Van der Vaart. Wow! Dutch bring on a defender! Stop the presses!
79′ Boulharouz comes up on the attack. And here I thought the Dutch were going to play defense…
80′ Ribery slings in a great cross into the box for Anelka. The Dutch are up for it, though, as Sneijder heads it away.
81′ Ribery with another great run as he blows by De Jong and gets a great cross into the box. It falls to Makelele, but he slips before he can get the shot off. Well, they don’t pay him to score goals. Meanwhile, Toulalan gets booked for dissent.
82′ De Jong with a long ball to Van Nistelrooy who’s all alone. Coupet comes out and Ruud tries to head it over the goalkeeper. It’s just wide of the mark, though. That would have been an impressive goal had he converted.
84′ Van Bronckhorst with the long pass to Van Persie. It’s just long, though, and Coupet has to come out again to stop it. Back the other way, and Henry gets a shot. He can’t get a good angle, though, and he shoots it wide.
85′ Anelka gets into the box and he goes down. French want a penalty, but ref says Mathijsen blocked him cleanly. Howard Webb would have given the penalty.
86′ French get another free kick just outside the box. Ribery goes for goal this time, but its just over the crossbar.
87′ Back the other way, and Van Nistelrooy gets cheeky and tries the back-heel pass. Maybe Cristiano Ronaldo can show you how it’s done when the club season starts…
89′ Robben gets another good scoring opportunity as Thuram (again) fails to close him out. Methinks Robben’s played his way back into the starting lineup… Van Basten has some thinking to do.
90′ Only 2 minutes of added time. Ribery with the shot, but it’s knocked out for the corner. On the ensuing corner, it’s knocked out towards Evra. Evra’s shot is too high, and that could be all she wrote for the French.
92′ GOAL!!! Sneijder comes back the other way and gets off a brilliant long-distance shot that whizzes past Coupet. Wow! What a great tournament Sneijder is having. There’s the whistle and it’s all over.
Wow! I can pretty much guarantee that no one wants to play this Dutch team right now. They just beat both of the 2006 World Cup Finalists by a combined score of 7-1! It was an up-and-down match, but the Dutch were stout on defense and were absolutely lethal on offense. They fell into a bit of a funk midway through the first half and looked ready to concede a goal at the start of the second half. But rather than sit back and try to defend, they brought on more firepower and were rewarded. I guess Van Basten’s convinced that his team can’t kill off a game like the Italians and French can. I’d be concerned about their defensive capabilities, but it hasn’t hurt them yet.
As for France, what can you say? Ribery had a heck of a game, and Govou played well. However, once again, the French were poor on offense. Henry scored, but he hardly looked like the dangerous game-changer that he was a couple of years ago. Thuram was abused on defense, and the midfield went through stretches where they were absolutely dominated. France had moments of brilliance, but they couldn’t close the deal. Ribery is a stud and is a worthy heir to Zidane. His teammates, however, let him down. They were behind the entire game, and they needed to be aggressive on offense. They couldn’t deliver the goods, though, and that’s why they’re looking at an early exit.
Man of the Match
Again, there were no shortage of candidates. Edwin Van der Sar was his usual self and he made a number of key saves during that shaky period in the middle of the game when it looked like France was going to equalize. Arjen Robben was a great spark off the bench and really changed the complexion of the game. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst (my pick for Man of the Match for the Italy game) had another solid game and assisted on Kuyt’s opener. Though he was on the losing team, Frank Ribery might have been the best player on the pitch. Still, Sneijder gets the nod for his great two-way play during the course of the game. He showed his goalscoring skills and that his amazing goal against Italy was no fluke. He also made a number of great defensive plays that helped scuttle several French attacks.
Congratulations to the Netherlands for advancing to the next round. France now has to fight for their lives against an equally desperate Italy. Should be entertaining.
Thanks to everyone who followed along live. Enjoy the weekend!