On Saturday June 21st, the Netherlands became the third consecutive team to fall victim to the curse of winning their first round group in the 2008 European Championships.
The Dutch were sent packing by Russia in a 3-1 defeat in extra time.
Russia had better looks than Holland throughout, but the Dutch did continually threaten on free kicks. In the 56th minute, Russia pulled ahead 1-0 as their star striker Roman Pavlyuchenko struck home a left-footed volley inside the box.
The goal looked to be exactly what the Dutch needed to get them going. They were finally sending attackers forward and pressuring the Russians more than they had the entire match.
Exactly a half hour after they conceded a goal, Holland answered. None other than Ruud van Nistelrooy delivered, sneaking in behind the Russian defense and nodding in a Wesley Sneijder free kick at the far post.
Heading into extra time it appeared that the Dutch had all the momentum. But they were unable to produce anymore on the offensive end, failing to net a second goal.
Finally, in the 112th minute, Russian substitute Dmitri Torbinsky finished a perfect cross from Andrei Arshevin on the back post to give Russia a commanding 2-1 lead. Four minutes later, Arshavin delivered the final dagger, netting a goal of his own to send the Russians into the semi finals with a 3-1 victory over the Netherlands.
Russia outplayed the Netherlands for the course of the match with Arshavin leading the way. Maybe short in stature, but not short of any talent, Arshavin had his coming out party against the Dutch. After that display, there is no doubt that Arshavin will be headed to a big-time European club.
On the other side, it was shocking to see the Netherlands unable to produce any offensive creativity. They failed to create any good chances other than on dead balls. It’s hard to believe that the same squad that netted three goals against the reigning world champions Italy and four goals against the World Cup runners-up France, only scored once against Russia.
Having said that, the Russian defense should be given a tremendous amount of credit. They crowded the middle of their defensive third, didn’t give the Dutch players space to work with, and made good tackles when they saw an opening.
Still, the Netherlands were the most explosive team in the group stage. And don’t forget they scored a total of nine goals while playing in the “Group of Death.”
In the midfield, Sneijder didn’t dominate the match like he had in the group stage. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst failed to make supportive runs down the left-hand wing, while Dirk Kuyt did plenty of running in the first half, though none of it paid off.
Without the supply coming from the midfield, Van Nistelrooy was unable to do much of anything (other than on free kicks), just as Robin Van Persie had no real opportunities after coming on in the second half.
With the way the Dutch dominated the group stage and how the expectations built from there, they have to be sorely disappointed.
It will be two long years for the Netherlands before they arrive in South Africa looking to prove to the world that their stumble against the Russians was merely a fluke.