The Orange show marches on as Netherlands whips yet another world-class opponent to win the so-called ‘Group of Death.’
In case you missed it, here are brief recaps of today’s Group C contests:
ROMANIA 1, ITALY 1: Another determined and dogged effort by Romania yielded a point in the Group of Death, as it held the World Champions to a draw. Striker Adrian Mutu pounced on an abysmal back pass to put Romania up 1-0 in the 55th minute, but Italy equalized just one minute later when defender Christian Panucci slotted home a corner kick at the far post.
NETHERLANDS 4, FRANCE 1: Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder each scored once as Netherlands produced another fantastic performance against another class opponent to book a place in the Round of 8. Friday’s killer moment arrived in the 72nd minute when Robben’s fantastic effort cancelled out a goal by Thierry Henry 45 seconds earlier.
MY ANALYSIS: Full marks to Netherlands in every respect. Quite simply, the Dutch have been the class of Euro 2008 so far. Spain proved at the last World Cup that the hottest team early doesn’t always go on to win (Spain won all three group games in impressive fashion at World Cup 2006 but lost to France in the Round of 16), and much work lies ahead for the men in Orange and their throngs of fantastic supporters. Nonetheless, you can’t deny how good they’ve been in their opening two contests.
I thought the key for Netherlands against France, as it was for the Dutch in a 3-0 win over Italy earlier this week, was the fact that it got fantastic contributions from players all over the pitch. Whether it was Ruud van Nistelrooy perfectly filling the role of a lead-the-line center forward up top or Edwin van der Sar making key stops whenever called upon at the back, there were stars all over the field for Netherlands. Substitutes Arjen Robben and Robin an Persie both scored and were hugely impressive, Wesley Sneijder was again outstanding in the middle, and Khalid Boulahrouz kept things tidy in defense.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. If Netherlands collectively plays this well throughout the rest of the tournament, and that’s a huge if, I don’t see anybody stopping the Orange train.
Meanwhile, World-Class goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon quite literally saved Italy’s Euro 2008 hopes with a penalty kick save in the 81st minute. I’ve always thought of Buffon as one of the top keepers in World football, and that save was invaluable and leaves much drama in Group C heading into next week’s section finale.
Romania on two points, and France and Italy on one point apiece all have a chance to join Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Watching that play out next week should be absolutely fascinating.
TODAY’S STAR MAN: Arjen Robben, Netherlands. After coming on at halftime, Robben had an assist and a goal to help the Dutch seal their hugely impressive win over France. As I pointed out above, there were a number of outstanding performances by players in orange jerseys today, but full credit to Robben for producing as a sub.
TODAY’S TOP GOAL: Arjen Robben vs. France: After Thierry Henry scores for France in the 71st minute to bring the French to within a goal at 2-1, it’s game on, right? Wrong. Straight from the kickoff, Rafael van der Vaart passes to Wesley Sneijder, who plays the ball to Real Madrid teammate Arjen Robben down the left wing. From an acute angle, he smashes the ball over France keeper Gregory Coupet and in. Sneijder’s late goal, a fantastic hit from outside the box, was also very good, but Robben’s gets the recognition here for its importance and quality.
Sweden vs. Spain, 10 a.m.
Greece vs. Russia, 12:30 p.m.
For those of you who caught today’s action, what did you think of the proceedings? Any disagreements with my choice for player of the day or goal of the day?