Netherlands bury struggling France

Netherlands 4 France 1

Netherlands 4 France 1

Rampant Netherlands produced an attacking masterclass for the second time in four days to bury France in Bern and seal their qualification for the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring and Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder added others after the break as Marco van Basten’s in-form team sank the French in the same way they did world champions Italy here on Monday.

Les Bleus’ consolation came through Thierry Henry on his return to the team, but even their revered defence could not handle the pace and brio of their opponents’ attacks.

France meet Italy on Tuesday but they both may be eliminated if Romania, who are second in the group, defeat Netherlands on the same night.

The Dutch, meanwhile, will now have to cope with the tag of tournament favourites after disposing of the two World Cup finalists of 2006 in sensational style, scoring seven goals in the process.

They were bound to feel at home given the army of Oranje fans who had invaded Bern city centre during the day and then the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf in the evening.

Their confidence was also sky high after their stunning victory over the Italians, and Kuyt’s opener after just eight minutes helped them settle.

It was a simple goal of the kind France rarely concede, Rafael van der Vaart sending a corner in from the right and Kuyt beating Florent Malouda in the air to head home at the near post.

France coach Raymond Domenech, who had reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation in bringing Patrice Evra, Sidney Govou and fit-again Henry back into the side, would have been alarmed at the defending for the goal.

Just as alarming for him would have been the confident swagger that had returned to the Dutch team, whose slick passing game was a joy to watch.

They were posing all sorts of problems early on, Sneijder firing just over in the 15th minute and then Kuyt poking a shot over the bar when free in the area after he pounced on a weak Lilian Thuram header.

France had been criticised back home for their laboured performance against Romania in Zurich but they upped the tempo here and created a host of half-chances in the final 20 minutes of the half.

Their first sight on goal came when Govou’s near-post effort drew an excellent instinctive save out of Edwin van der Sar.

Three more opportunities fell to the French in the space of a few minutes - Malouda, Govou and Franck Ribery all bringing decent stops out of Van Der Sar with low drives.

Henry curled wide from 20 yards with the last opportunity of the half but at the start of the second period, he thought he had earned his side a penalty.

Govou’s driven cross-shot was deflected into his path and the Barcelona striker’s goalbound effort was blocked by the hand of Andre Ooijer.

Referee Herbert Fandel was obviously unsighted and only gave a corner, much to the chagrin of the French.

Henry had an immediate chance to exact his revenge but having been put clean through in the 53rd minute by Malouda’s spectacular pass, the former Arsenal skipper sent his lob way over.

His profligacy was punished on the hour mark when two of Netherlands’s second-half substitutes, Robben and Van Persie, combined to put the Dutch further ahead.

The goal originated from some sublime skills by Ruud van Nistelrooy on the touchline and his Real Madrid team-mate Robben took the ball on.

His perfect cross from the left found Van Persie, whose volley crept over the line despite the best efforts of France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet.

Henry finally got his goal in the 70th minute when he glanced home a cross from the right from Willy Sagnol but, within seconds, Robben restored Netherlands’s two-goal cushion.

The left-winger ran onto Sneijder’s through-ball down the left channel, won himself half a yard against Thuram and drove home a powerful drive from a narrow angle into the roof of the net.

The impressive Van Nistelrooy almost got himself on the scoresheet with seven minutes left with an impudent header, but it was clawed out by Coupet.

It was left for Sneijder to add garnish, his superb curling shot from 25 yards giving Coupet no chance.

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