Holland are through to the last eight of Euro 2008 after they defeated France 4-1 in an absorbing encounter in Berne.
Goals from Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder ensured that Holland take maximum points from their opening two games. Thierry Henry replied for France, who now face the prospect of early elimination from the competition.
France, showing several changes from the side that laboured to a goalless draw against Romania on Monday, were looking to get their campaign on track, and possibly save the job of the much-criticised coach Raymond Domenech.
Holland, understandably, kept the same side that dismantled Italy in their opening game. Marco Van Basten had resisted the temptation to recall the fit-again Arjen Robben in place of Kuyt, and the Liverpool striker took just ten minutes to justify his selection when he rose to meet a Giovanni Van Bronckhorst corner to put Holland 1-0 up.
Ten minutes later Kuyt was the quickest to react when the ball skimmed off the head of Lilian Thuram, but forward’s shot sailed harmlessly over the bar.
At this stage, France were struggling to get into the game but gradually, prompted by the busy Franck Ribery, Domenech’s side began to make inroads into the Dutch defence.
Twice, Sidney Govou had efforts saved by Edwin Van Der Sar, while Thierry Henry, quiet on his return to the side, spun on the egde of the area before curling a right-foot shot wide of the post. Ribery also brought a fine save from Van der Sar as Domenech’s side began to assert themselves.
After the break France carried on where they left off and Holland were hanging on at times. Henry had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down when his goalbound shot appeared to be blocked by the hands of Andre Ooijer, but despite vociferous protests from the French, the referee waved play on.
Moments later, Henry wasted a glorious opportunity to level the scores when he was put through on goal by Florent Malouda. With only Van der Sar to beat, and under no pressure, France’s all-time leading scorer lifted the ball over the bar.
Van Basten, who had introduced Robben for Orlando Engelaar at half-time, responded to the growing French threat by bringing on Robin Van Persie for Kuyt. It was a bold move and one that paid off almost immediately when the two substitutes combined for Holland’s second goal. Set free by a neat flick by Van Nistelrooy, Robben hared down the left wing and his pinpoint cross found Van Persie who volleyed home from close range.
France, though, weren’t finished and on 71 minutes Henry made amends for his earlier miss by scoring with a deft flick from Willy Sagnol’s precise right-wing cross.
It looked game on, but straight from the kick-off Holland regained their two-goal advantage to effectively kill off France’s chances of a comeback. Rafael Van der Vaart played a perfectly weighted pass into the feet of Robben who advanced into the penalty area before unleashing a powerful drive past Gregory Coupet from a tight angle.
There was still time for a fourth when the impressive Sneijder collected the ball from Van Persie and curled an unstoppable shot past Coupet from the egde of the French area.
The scoreline perhaps flattered Holland, who at times tonight were forced to defend desperately, but nothing should be taken away from Van Basten’s side and in partiuclar the quality of their second-half goals.
France, World Cup runners-up two years ago, now find themselves in the same situation as world champions Italy. The two sides meet next week knowing that only a win will be enough to qualify for the knockout stages and, if Romania overcome Holland, even that will not be enough.
France 1-4 Holland
Holland: Dirk Kuyt 9, Robin van Persie 59, Arjen Robben 72, Wesley Sneijder 90+2
France: Thierry Henry 71
Holland: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 21-Khalid Boulahrouz, 2-Andre Ooijer, 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 17-Nigel de Jong, 8-Orlando Engelaar (11-Arjen Robben 46); 18-Dirk Kuyt (7-Robin van Persie 56), 23-Rafael van der Vaart (14-Wilfred Bouma 78), 10-Wesley Sneijder; 9-Ruud van Nistelrooy.
France: 23-Gregory Coupet; 19-Willy Sagnol, 15-Lilian Thuram, 5-William Gallas, 13-Patrice Evra; 10-Sidney Govou (8-Nicolas Anelka 75), 20-Jeremy Toulalan, 6-Claude Makelele, 7-Florent Malouda (18-Bafetimbi Gomis 60); 22-Franck Ribery, 12-Thierry Henry
Referee: Herbert Fandel (Germany)