Netherlands beat France, enters quarters
Substitute Arjen Robben set up one goal and scored another on Friday to lead the Netherlands to a 4-1 victory over France and a place in the quarterfinals of the European Championship.
While the Dutch clinched first place in Group C, the result left France needing a win over World Cup champion Italy in its last match to stand a good chance of advancement.
With a second classic performance in as many games, the Dutch again produced the sparkle any championship craves, compiling a total of seven goals against World Cup finalists Italy and France. The Netherlands beat Italy 3-0 Monday.
The only goal the 1988 champions have conceded came from Thierry Henry, who scored his record 45th goal for France in the 71st minute. Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder also scored for the Dutch on Friday.
"Italy was already so beautiful and this is exactly the same," said Sneijder, who was picked man of the match for the second time in a row. "Super, Italy and France are nothing to laugh at." The second Dutch goal will be cherished by the Netherlands for years and will haunt the aging French defense. After Kuyt gave the Netherlands the lead in the ninth minute with a header from a corner kick, Van Persie finished off an attack in the 59th. Ruud van Nistelrooy spun some magic with close footwork to send Robben down the left and the counter was on. The winger outran opposition, bided his time and saw Van Persie make a run on the right. The Arsenal winger pushed it past Gregory Coupet for the second goal.
After Henry had put the game within French reach with a subtle deflection from a cross from the right by Willy Sagnol, the tension in the 30,000-capcity stadium suddenly was electric. One minute later, Robben was loose on the left, with France's once-great defender Lilian Thuram ahead of him. Working at twice the pace, he created space and rifled the ball past Coupet high in the net. At 36, Thuram didn't know what happened to him. In injury time, another great goal to rub it in. Van Nistelrooy served Van Persie, who served Sneijder in the center. The Real Madrid midfielder turned his defender and with a curling shot from 20 meters (yards) capped another perfect evening. "Lets build a party now. Not too much because we still need to play the quarterfinals," Sneijder said.
For some spells France at least proved it could still play great football. The French didn't want to be lulled into another bad result like the scoreless draw against Romania, but France coach Raymond Domenech failed to come up with the magic formula for goals. Even with the return of Henry, the thousands of blue-clad fans in the stands of the Stade de Suisse were left wanting. Henry had his first major action in the 43rd minute and it was well off the mark.
And when the Dutch started to look brittle for the first time in the championships, up stepped standout goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Ever since making the vital penalty stop to give Manchester United the Champions League title, it seems he can do no wrong. In a five-minute spell late in the half, the 37-year-old Van der Sar saved the team three times.
In the second half, the French immediately piled on pressure and appealed for a penalty in the 49th when a shot from close range from Henry appeared to hit Andre Ooijer's arm as he was falling down to block the shot.
Netherlands: Edwin van der Sar, Khalid Boulahrouz, Andre Ooijer, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Orlando Engelaar (Arjen Robben, 46), Nigel de Jong, Dirk Kuyt (Robin Van Persie, 55), Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart (Wilfred Bouma, 78), Ruud van Nistelrooy.
France: Gregory Coupet, Willy Sagnol, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, Claude Makelele, Jeremy Toulalan, Florent Malouda (Bafetimbi Gomis, 60), Sidney Govou (Nicolas Anelka, 75), Thierry Henry.