No bloody battle in group of death
For what meant to be a gory struggle for Holland and Argentina, was only quick and brutal end of the minnows. Schedule | Teams | Results | Photos | Gamesindia Updated: Jun 17, 2006 16:10 IST
The so-called "group of death" was to meant to be a bloody battle for the Netherlands and Argentina but in the end it was a quick and brutal end for Ivory Coast and Serbia & Montenegro.
Both World Cup debutants will be heading home after the group stage with only pride and points from a dead rubber against each other to play for.
If progress at the World Cup was judged on entertainment and not results then Ivory Coast would be well on their way to booking a place in the last 16, not licking their wounds from a pair of gallant 2-1 defeats.
The strongest of Africa's five representatives at the finals had the misfortune to be paired in Group C with two world heavyweights who, although battered and bruised, withstood the blows to make a mockery of pundits who suggested that one or the other would exit early.
"Oranje op weg naar goud" (Orange on the road to gold) proclaims the logo on the Dutch team bus, but while Argentina underlined their credentials to win a third World Cup by demolishing Serbia 6-0, Marco van Basten's Dutch side could not quite convince that they can go all the way.
Cruising on Friday after goals from Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Dutch were rattled by Bakary Kone's stunning reply and needed all their defensive guile to keep out the rejuvenated Africans.
Van Basten will be encouraged that his midfielders heeded his call to bring Van Persie into the game and not guide every ball to the feet of twinkle-toed left-winger Arjen Robben at every opportunity.
"We have a right winger" had been the coach's message to his team after beating Serbia and it was Van Persie who put the Dutch on their way to victory, earning a free kick from a jinking run and then slamming an exocet past keeper Jean-Jacques Tizzie.
Robben again proved a handful, although it was debateable that he should have been awarded FIFA's man-of-the-match. But his booking for diving will have done little to enhance a reputation sullied by accusations of cheating in the past.
Little of it will matter to the Ivory Coast team who came into the tournament with the prospect of emulating the feats of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal four years ago in reaching the quarter-finals.
Sublime moments of skill, particularly from the outstanding Bakary Kone and Didier Zakora, had fans off their feet at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion stadium but their endeavour brought unequal reward.
The tournament also ends in bitter disappointment for Ivorian captain Didier Drogba who will miss his side's final game after picking up his second yellow card.