The European Championships were certain to bring us plenty of excitement with many of the world’s top teams competing for the right to be called Europe’s best. Group C, or the “Group of Death”, contains three of the top 10 teams in the world. This promised fans some excellent soccer.
Italy, the reigning World Cup Champions, seemed a favorite to move onto the second round of play. Many also believed that the Dutch side had the personnel to make it out of the group stages, but they would have their biggest challenge in their first game against the Azzurri.
From the beginning of the game, Holland looked poised and determined. They maintained possession without the likes of Arjen Robben, Ryan Babel, or Robin Van Persie in the starting line-up. Instead, relative newcomers on the international stage, Orlando Engelaar and Nigel De Jong held strong in the midfield.
The Dutch eventually put too much pressure on Gianluigi Buffon. He was able to parry aside one attempt, while knocking one of his defenders just off the field. The resulting cross found Ruud Van Nistelrooy inside the six, and he was able to easily slot home the first goal of the game.
Van Nistelrooy appeared to be in an offside position, but the referee got the decision right as the Italian defender was lying just off field behind the net. This kept Van Nistelrooy onside and the goal counted.
It was this decision that set the tone for the rest of the game. The referee was not going to fall for the infamous Italian acts of deception. The Italian defender off the pitch was clearly not injured, and had been a part of the play that led to the eventual goal.
Additionally, Luca Toni was given a yellow card for complaining to the referee after the goal.
I believe the ref did a tremendous job of calling a fair game. The Italians were unsuccessful in their attempts to draw fouls by diving and overreacting. The ref let the game play and had many similar no-call decisions for both sides.
This forced the Italians to play, and not manipulate a game by stalling for time or complaining about the referee’s decision. The Italian players realized they were not going to gain an advantage by implementing any of these tactics. This led to the exploitation of the Italian defense by Holland’s “total football.”
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst led the Oranje in both the attack and defense from his left fullback position, and was a pivotal part of the next two goals.
On the second goal, he cleared the ball of his own goal line and led the counter attack up the left flank, playing a beautiful cross over to Dirk Kuyt, who headed the ball nicely to set up Wesley Sneijder for a superb volley.
Then, for the third tally, Van Bronckhorst raced up the sideline with the ball and was able to head home another cross from Kuyt.
There are some doubts about Holland’s back line, but with Edwin Van Der Sar in net the defense is solid. The Italians had some close chances as well, with Pirlo’s free kicks, but they looked too stunned and had no answer for the quick play of the Dutch.
Gio Van Bronckhorst gets my man of the match vote for the excellent ninety minutes he played. His work along with the hustle of Kuyt and Sneijder make the Dutch, and their counter attack, a promising side to be crowned European champions.