Second-choice striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made sure a makeshift Netherlands sent Romania out of the European Championship on Tuesday with a 2-0 win, a result which allowed Italy to join the Dutch in the quarterfinals. Huntelaar, the replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy, killed off much of the suspense hanging over the game by tapping in a left-field cross from Ibrahim Afellay in the 54th minute. Robin van Persie added the other in the 87th.
The Netherlands, which had already won Group C with a game to spare, finished with a perfect nine points. Italy, which beat France 2-0 at the same time, also progressed with four points. A strangely listless Romania, playing its biggest game in eight years, never pushed forward with passion and aggression and depended far too much on a few flashes of brilliance from striker Adrian Mutu.
The Dutch, who were pressured to win a game which otherwise could have eliminated Italy and France from the competition, obliged and proved their second-string lineup is sound and solid, if not sparkling and spectacular.
Players were always going to be on edge, with Romania looking for an unlikely place in the quarterfinals and the Netherlands fielding a "B" squad with nine replacements.
With a loss, the Dutch could have eliminated both France and Italy from the group and make sure they would not face them again in a potential semifinal clash.
Add to that another wet field at Euro 2008 and play was scrappy from the opening whistle.
The famed "clockwork orange" which led to a lopsided 3-0 win over Italy and a 4-1 rout over France was nowhere in sight. The Dutch team, clad all in orange, had little of the magic of their teammates sitting on the bench. They were nervous, and often could not control the simplest play in the first half.
Romania, however, was strangely lackluster with so much at play. Once they lost possession, they withdrew far into their half as if a draw would suffice to go through.
In the whole match, Maarten Stekelenburg, a replacement for Edwin van der Sar in goal, did not have a decent save to make. In the dying minutes, Romania squandered at least two good opportunities. When the Italians scored in the 25th minute and France was reduced to 10 men, it was evident that only victory would do. Yet it did not reflect on the field as Romania left two thirds of first-half possession to the Dutch.
Mutu, who got his team into Tuesday's tough bind by missing a late penalty against Italy, was the only one getting through the Dutch duct-tape defense. With close control he wrestled a ball across the face of goal in the 24th. And with a flowing action on the half hour, he left Wilfred Bouma standing but rifled his shot from the edge of the area just wide.
On the stroke of halftime, Mutu was again involved when he broke on the left and passed into the center where Paul Codrea shot just over.
The Dutch were not taking it lying down. They had about 20,000 fans at the 30,000-capacity Stade de Suisse to please. Through Van Persie and Arjen Robben, who both came on and scored against the French, they were dangerous on the wings, but Huntelaar, despite the goal, was no replacement for Van Nistelrooy. In the second half, Romania realized the urgency and increasingly pushed forward. It also opened itself up for the famed and feared Dutch counter.
With their backs against the wall after the goal, the Romanians still did not respond immediately, and the Dutch defense, even flush with replacements, held tight.
The Netherlands retained only two players in its starting lineup and had only defender Khalid Boulahrouz and midfielder Orlando Engelaar backing up from the wins over France and Italy. Netherlands coach Marco van Basten rested defender Andre Ooijer and holding midfielder Nigel de Jong as they would be suspended for the quarterfinals if they received another yellow card.