Thank god for Holland.
I’m no Dutch homer, but it’s impossible not to love a team that goes up 2-0 on the World Cup champion and, instead of packing it in, sends its diminutive left back (Giovanni van Bronckhorst) on a jailbreak run that ends with him scoring--on a header, of all things.
Netherlands 3, Italy 0.
Here are some of the entries from my notebook in this game: Wow. Unbelievable. Holy ----.
Not once in eight games over the past 30 years had the Dutch beaten Italy. Never had Italy given up three goals in a European Championship game. And never will you see a finer pair of team-built counter-attack goals than the ones scored by Holland for their second and third goals. Talk about Showtime in the transition game.
You can be certain there was celebrating in the house of former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, a close friend of Van Bronckhorst from their days together at Glasgow Rangers. (One of Reyna’s sons is named Giovanni after his pal.) If you ever wanted a modern-day clinic in Dutch Total Football, you got one from the Oranje today, and more so from Van Bronckhorst than from any other single player.
It was Gio who, with the score still 1-0 in the first half, cleared Andrea Pirlo’s corner kick off his own goal line, raced down the left side at breakneck speed, met a sweet pass from Rafael van der Vaart and sent a glorious ball over the top to Dirk Kuyt, whose delicate header bounced once before Wesley Sneijder hit a perfect one-time shot near-post to beat Gigi Buffon.
And it was Gio who shot out of a cannon after Pirlo had been denied (again!) on a screaming free kick, Gio who kept running with the ball and found Kuyt, who kept pushing after Buffon’s initial save and hit Gio with the return cross for the first headed goal of Euro 2008.
What more can you say? Is it too early for me to crow a little bit after catching static from some of you guys for picking Holland to go to the final? (O.K., yes, it’s too early. I hear you.)
Three other thoughts:
• Orlando Engelaar and Nigel De Jong were amazing. The Dutch attackers deserve a ton of credit, but midfielders Engelaar and De Jong shut down Pirlo--one of the top players from World Cup ’06--the entire game. Pirlo spun and spun and spun, and in the end did little more than spin his wheels.
• Holland’s first goal was NOT a thing of beauty. Common sense says that Italian defender Christian Panucci should not have been considered active as he lay prostrate beyond the endline after being knocked down by his own keeper Buffon before Holland’s first goal. Panucci did not try to trick anyone by stepping off the field while upright. Simple story: the Dutch’s first goal (by Ruud van Nistelrooy) should not have counted, since (were it not for Panucci) RVN was offside by several yards. That shouldn’t take away from Holland’s victory, but it needs to be said.
• Edwin van der Sar can still bring it. The save that Van der Sar made on Antonio Di Natale in minute 33 was a lot harder than it looked, since VDS was being screened by his own defender, Khalid (the Cannibal) Boulahrouz, who was nutmegged by the shot itself. Had Italy been able to take a 2-1 deficit into halftime (and spark some doubt in the Dutch) this might have been a different game.
Through-balls: Maybe it was the end-to-end nature of the game, but I still feel better about Italy’s chances to survive the Group of Death than those of France or Romania ... It might be fashionable in hindsight to say that this Italy team is too old, but keep in mind, Van Bronckhorst is 33 and Van Nistelrooy is 31 ... Separated at Birth (courtesy SI.com soccer producer Jonah Freedman): Italy’s Roberto Donadoni and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips ... I wouldn’t be surprised to see several changes in Italy’s lineup against Romania, including the insertion of Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero. Antonio Cassano was dangerous in short-term duty on Monday as well.
Can the Italians come back from this? I think they will. Post your own thoughts below...