From now until the end of the Euro 2008 tournament on June 29th, we’ll be frequently updating this space with updates and analysis of what’s happening in Austria and Switzerland.
And what a day we picked to begin such updates. After a very benign opening match in this tournament’s so-called ‘Group of Death’ (Group C) between France and Romania, we were treated to 90 minutes of absolutely fantastic entertainment between Netherlands and Italy.
In case you missed it, here are brief recaps of today’s contests:
FRANCE 0, ROMANIA 0: Unheralded Romania, at least in terms of being compared to the three world powers that reside in its group, showed why it was so tough throughout ’08 qualifying as it laid back and frustrated France from start to finish en route to a 0-0 draw. Phenomenal youngster Karim Benzema and veteran warhorse Nicolas Anelka, France’s two starting strikers, rarely threatened Romania’s goal before both being hauled off, and the Romanians were full value for the point they earned.
NETHERLANDS 3, ITALY 0: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Gioavnni van Bronckhorst each scored once as Netherlands thrashed the World Champions in stunning fashion. Van Nistelrooy looked to have been offside when he opened the scoring in the 26h minute, though the Dutch had been firmly on top up to that point. Sneijder scored with a classy counter-attack goal five minutes later, and Van Bronckhorst rounded off the scoring with 10 minutes to go as Netherlands handed Italy its worst defeat in European Championship history.
France’s very pedestrian performance will likely be brushed aside in many respects simply because of how many talking points there were in today’s second game. Whether van Nistelrooy was indeed offside or not will hopefully be clarified in the days to come ‘ it will certainly be debated around the world ad nauseam ‘ but there’s no denying how good Netherlands looked over 90 minutes. Or how bad Italy was by its high, high standards.
The Italians have turned defending into an art form over the decades, and to see them give up three goals in a major tournament game is simply unbelievable. Judging by their expressions, I know the Italians themselves couldn’t believe what was happening to them. So many times we see matchups where great attacking soccer meets great defending, and the winner is almost always great defending. That’s not to say that Italy defended well today by any stretch of the imagination ‘ they were all over the place ‘ but it’s nice every now and again to see brilliant, eye-catching soccer come out on top. That’s precisely what Netherlands provided, and it sets the stage for hopefully more great soccer in the days and weeks to come.
TODAY’S STAR MAN: Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands. Not only did he score, but the Real Madrid man orchestrated the Dutch attack and was simply outstanding ‘ like many of his teammates ‘ from start to finish. Giovanni van Bronckhorst also played particularly well.
TODAY’S TOP GOAL: Sneijder’s goal vs. Italy. I’ll take a brilliant counter-attack goal like this one over a thunderous 30-yard volley any day of the week. Sneijder’s 31st-minute goal, which started as a corner kick by Italy legend Andrea Pirlo, was exactly that. Netherlands ping the ball downfield expertly, and Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool eventually nods the ball back toward the middle from the right side. Sneijder, stationed at the near post, does fantastically well to sweep the ball past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and in. Netherland’s third goal, which started after a brilliant save by Man. United keeper Edwin van der Sar, was also very good, but the earlier one was pure magic.
For those of you lucky enough to have caught today’s action, what did you think of the proceedings? Any disagreements with our choice for player of the day or goal of the day?