Football: Dutch master art of heartbreak

World Cup qualifiers: Van Hooijdonk kills Welsh dream of a stunning victory as Scots maintain their progress
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The Independent Online
Wales 1

Saunders 17

Holland 3

Van Hooijdonk 72, 75, De Boer 79

Attendance: 25,000

HEART can get you a long way; high quality takes you further. Bravely Wales clung on to Dean Saunders's early goal for almost an hour here last night, Neville Southall's goalkeeping heroics continually denying a technically superior Holland, but eventually they were undone by three goals in seven minutes.

Fired by a throaty Arms Park crowd, the Welsh had the the passion and commitment their language calls hwyl but the Dutch, patient and persistent, trumped it with a tongue-twister of their own called Van Hooijdonk. The Celtic striker Pierre scored twice in five minutes after coming on as a substitute, Ronald de Boer completing the turnaround.

It severely dents Welsh hopes of qualifying from World Cup Group Seven for the 1998 finals in France, as will a late caution for Mark Hughes which means he misses the return next month against the Dutch, who have themselves begun their campaign encouragingly.

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated, it appears. Injuries denied them a host of important players including Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars and they were thought to be suffering, too, from a crisis of confidence after the 4-1 beating by England at Euro 96 as well as the early season foibles of their club persona, Ajax.

Not a bit of it. Adapting smoothly to their coach Guus Hiddink's new 4-4-2 formation, rather than the customary Ajax 3-4-3, they passed the ball neatly and moved sweetly through the Welsh 3-5-2. Wales's terrier- like qualities were admirable; those of the more thoughtful and talented Dutch decisive.

The pattern of the game was established early on when Clarence Seedorf sent Jordi Cruyff clear, only for Southall to race out and parry his low shot. When Wales broke out to score, it was against the run of play and with an element of good fortune.

Barry Horne collected a pass infield from Hughes, ran at the Dutch defence and deserved the break of the ball that enabled him to drive it into the six-yard area where Saunders, looking offside, had an easy tap-in.

It interrupted the Dutch stride only briefly. With Wim Jonk pulling the midfield strings and Seedorf dancing forward delightfully, an equaliser seemed a formality. The problems for them, however, were poor finishing the inability of Cruyff and Ronald de Boer up front to overcome a mistake- prone defence. Those and Southall.

Twice he held 30-yard free kicks, from Jonk and Frank de Boer, and he tipped over brilliantly Philip Cocu's shot from Jonk's cross to preserve the Welsh lead at the break. "The first half was a plus and the second was a disappointment," the Everton goalkeeper was later to say by way of apt summary.

Wales had almost doubled their lead in a rare first-half raid when Hughes swivelled to send in a trademark volley from close range which Edwin van der Sar turned aside brilliantly and their only other real chance came at the start of the second half when Mark Pembridge headed John Robinson's cross just wide.

Thereafter it was a catalogue of Dutch chances and Southall saves; three in three minutes from headers by the lively substitute Roy Makaay, making his debut after being called up from the Under-21s due to the injuries, and Ronald de Boer, as well as a fierce drive from Seedorf.

He topped even those when he arched brilliantly to tip over Cocu's header from Seedorf's cross and deserved his luck when Pembridge kicked Winston Bogarde's headeroff the line. Wales's response was a drive by Marcus Browning which drifted wide and a scramble that saw Hughes thwarted as he tried to turn home Browning's cross.

Finally the Dutch found the finish with the arrival of Van Hooijdonk. Southall was at last beaten by Ronald de Boer's shot and though Mark Bowen got back to block, it fell to Van Hooijdonk to lash into the roof of the net from close range. Three minutes later, he classicaly planted a downward header from Seedorf's right-wing cross into Southall's left corner.

Ronald de Boer, freed now from his striking role to arrive from deeper, dived to head home Cocu's cross in another four minutes with the Welsh defence once again having failed to heed the words of the song played as their theme before the match: Can't take my eyes off you.

The reversal of fortune was complete. In footballing terms, the Dutch deserved it, though it was hard on the 38-year-old Southall. His heart was huge but Holland's talent, tactics and technique more expansive.

Wales (3-5-2): Southall (Everton); Melville (Sunderland), Bowen (West Ham), Symons (Man City); Robinson (Charlton), Browning (Bristol Rovers), Horne (Birmingham), Pembridge (Sheff Wed), Speed (Everton); Saunders (Nottm Forest), Hughes (Chelsea). Subs: Legg (Birmingham) for Pembridge, 63; Jenkins (Huddersfield) for Browning, 84.

Holland (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Ajax); Vierklau (Vitesse), Valckx (PSV Eindhoven), F. De Boer (Ajax), Bogarde (Ajax); Winter (Inter Milan), Jonk (PSV), Seedorf (Real Madrid), Cocu (PSV); Cruyff (Man Utd), R De Boer (Ajax). Subs: Makaay (Vitesse) for Cruyff, h-t; Van Hooijdonk (Celtic) for Vierklau, 71; Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord) for R De Boer, 89.

Referee: A Lopez Nieto (Spain).