Dutch look to erase ghosts of Euro 2000
Holland embark on yet another major finals campaign with high expectations but their first clash of Euro 2008 will evoke memories of another failure to cash in on their constant conveyor belt of talent when they face world champions Italy here on Monday.
The Dutch - out to emulate their 1988 compatriots in being European champions - looked to have the upper hand over the same opposition in the Euro 2000 semi-final playing as 11 against 10 for the majority of the match but missed two penalties in playing time and eventually lost on a penalty shootout.
There are two survivors in the present squad from that traumatic experience in goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and Giovanni van Bronckhorst but it is the absence of one of the Italians who played that day, Fabio Cannavaro, who suffered an ankle injury earlier in the week ruling him out of the tournament, that has given the Dutch a boost.
"In a sense, his (Cannavaro's) absence is a good thing for us," said Dutch coach Marco van Basten, who steps down after the tournament to take over ailing Dutch giants Ajax,
"He is a huge name, a great player, and a huge personality. He was fundamental to the Italian game," added van Basten, otherwise known as 'Saint Marco'.
Van Basten certainly has plenty of attacking talent to call on which will give a Cannavaro-less Italian defence plenty to worry about, though it appears that will be without Arsenal's injury-plagued Robin van Persie, as van Basten does not believe he is yet fit enough to take on a team of Italy's calibre.
However, the worry for van Basten is that his defence and more importantly his two defensive midfielders have given cause for concern as he has failed to fill those two spots since Marc van Bommel refused to play under him after the 2006 World Cup while Clarence Seedorf withdrew from contention late on, saying he believed the coach did not have confidence in him.
Even van Basten does not seem to know what his best pairing of defensive midfielders will be.
"I am no longer certain who to select for the defensive midfielder positions," said van Basten.
Hardly cause for optimism, but it is another player who he fell out with and who he has subsequently rebuilt his bridges with, striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has urged the Dutch to try to restrain themselves from their usual tactic of attack, attack attack.
"We devote all our energy to attack, they defend at 0-0. Then, they score in the 80th minute and say 'arrivederci'. That just must not happen.
"I am all for attacking, but we mustn't take too much of a risk."
However, the Italians are determined to emulate France in adding the European crown to their world title - the French having won Euro 2000 after landing the 1998 World Cup - and playmaker Andrea Pirlo has made no secret of their determination to do just that and amazingly give the Italians just their second win in the tournament's history.
"I'll play and I've come here to win. I want to lift this cup," said Pirlo, who was man of the match in the 2006 World Cup final.
"With Cannavaro (out) Italy have lost a lot but we have the same desire as at the World Cup in Germany and, on top of that, the motivation that Italy hasn't won the Euro in 40 years.
"It's time to bring this trophy back home."