BERN, Switzlerland - The Dutch certainly made the first surprise of the European Championship a stunner.
The Netherlands handed Italy its worst loss in tournament history, a 3-0 rout Monday that left the World Cup champions in danger of elimination in the first round.
Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder scored in the first half, and standout defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst added the third goal on a counterattack in the 79th minute.
“It was a historic feat. This was Italy, the world champion,” Netherlands coach Marco van Basten said. “I cannot name one player who played poorly.”
That’s because none did.
“This leaves us incredibly proud and with a great feeling,” Sneijder said. “The first time is always incredibly important and to do this against Italy ... it gives us a lot of confidence. But we have to realize that it is not in the bag yet.”
Italy’s once-proud defense looked old and slow. Van Nistelrooy tore through the Azzurri defense at will. With injured captain Fabio Cannavaro sitting on the bench next to his crutches, Marco Materazzi and Andrea Barzagli were picked apart by the Oranje attack.
“It was one of the ugliest games in the last 12 years,” Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. “In the name of the entire team, I think I have to apologize to all the Italian fans.”
The win put Netherlands in charge of the toughest first-round group. The Dutch have the only win Group C after France tied Romania 0-0 earlier in the day.
The Dutch carried several injuries into the match, but the Italians started with nine players over 30 and could not match the Netherlands for creativity and doggedness.
Van Nistelrooy’s breakthrough goal was claimed to be offside by Italy, but the striker deflected a 20-yard shot from Van Bronckhorst past Buffon with an Italy defender off the field next to the goal. That score equaled the number of goals Italy yielded in the run of play in the 2006 World Cup.
The second goal was a perfect counterattack. Van Bronckhorst kicked a ball off his own goal line and immediately rushed up the left, where he took a long pass from Rafael van der Vaart. The Italians were woefully out of position when Van Bronckhorst sent a defense-splitting pass to Dirk Kuyt on the right.
Kuyt, starting because of a groin injury to Arjen Robben, headed it perfectly into the path of Sneijder and the midfielder volleyed it past Buffon.
“We have been able to play superb football,” Sneijder said. “Now we have to continue in the same vein.”
Edwin van der Sar, the 37-year-old Netherlands goalkeeper, produced a stunning save on Andrea Pirlo’s free kick to prevent Italy from getting back in the game in the 78th. Moments later, Van Bronckhorst made it 3-0 off a scramble in the Italy area.
The Italian fans displayed signs saying “Spremuta d’Orange” — freshly squeezed orange juice — but it was a Dutch squeezing that left the Azzurri blue.
“We have to go out onto the field believing we can win,” coach Roberto Donadoni said.
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