Football: World Cup: Kluivert's subtraction distorts Hiddink's sums

Netherlands 0 Belgium 0 Att: 75,000
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THE CHAMPIONSHIP of the Benelux, which promised to be the high point of the World Cup opening stages, turned out as flat as the Low Countries.

On a wet and windy night here, Belgium held, and sometimes kicked, the Netherlands to a goalless draw. The game was all about arithmetic. Belgium had worked out that a point stolen from their neighbours would make them favourites to qualify second from Group E. They assembled seven men behind the ball for much of the game, even when the Dutch had a player subtracted by the stupidity of Patrick Kluivert nine minutes from time.

The Dutch had three good chances in a sparkling first half hour and wasted them all. The best fell to Jimmy Hasselbaink of Leeds United, who centred feebly across an open goal from a tight but scorable angle. The gloomy Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, was left to do the sums afterwards - three into one won't go. "In international football, if you have three good chances to score, then you have to take at least one of them. We didn't."

The match also turned on a well-calculated - and calculating - substitution by the Belgian coach, Georges Leekens. For 22 minutes, Marc Overmars continued his late-season Arsenal form on the left side of the Dutch attack, inflicting a high-speed humiliation on the Belgian right-back, Bertrand Crasson. Leekens pulled him off and sent on Eric Deflandre, with orders to close the door on Overmars. Deflandre body-checked the Dutch winger savagely in the 29th minute, earning a yellow card from the Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina. Overmars was rarely in the game after that; and the Dutch rarely looked the same attacking force.

It was 30 minutes before the Belgians entered the Dutch penalty area (and then they only ventured a yard inside). It was 44 minutes before they had an attempt on goal, Luc Nilis almost scoring with his chest after Frank de Boer deflected a free-kick from the left. Edwin van der Sar, the Ajax goalkeeper, smothered the ball on the line.

By this time, the Dutch were reduced to a series of long range shots and free-kicks which rarely found the target.

The same pattern continued in the second half, except that the Belgians grew in confidence. Jaap Stam, a vast, calm figure at the centre of the Dutch defence, dealt with most of what the Belgians had to offer.

Hiddink, who had wanted to save Bergkamp until he was fully fit, grew impatient. He threw on the Arsenal striker in the 65th minute, with little result. The one chance that Bergkamp had, he wasted, muffing a shot with his left foot after he had controlled well with his right.

Within a couple of minutes, Hiddink's goal-scoring problems were foolishly compounded. Kluivert, who had an inconsequential game, got into an off- the-ball exchange of insults with Lorenzo Staelens, then shoved the Belgian dismissively with his extended arm. Staelens collapsed as if stabbed, the linesman exaggerated the severity of the incident to Mr Collina, and the fading boy wonder was off and is suspended for two games.

As the clock wound down, the Belgian fans began to celebrate. They, too, could do their arithmetic: 0 plus 0 equals one point.

NETHERLANDS (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar (Ajax); Winter (Internazionale), Stam (PSV Eindhoven), F de Boer (Ajax), Numan (PSV Eindhoven); Cocu (PSV Eindhoven); Seedorf (Real Madrid), R de Boer (Ajax), Overmars (Arsenal); Hasselbaink (Leeds Utd), Kluivert (Milan). Substitutes: Zenden (PSV Eindhoven) for Seedorf, 67; Bergkamp (Arsenal) for Hasselbaink, 67; Jonk (PSV Eindhoven) for R de Boer, 80.

BELGIUM (3-4-1-2): De Wilde (Anderlecht); Verstraeten (Germinal Ekeren), Staelens (Club Bruges), Clement (Genk); Crasson (Napoli), Boffin (Metz), Van der Elst (Club Bruges), Borkelmans (Club Bruges); Wilmots (Schalke 04); Nilis (PSV Eindhoven), Oliveira (Fiorentina). Substitutes: Deflandre (Club Bruges) for Crasson, 23; L Mpenza (Standard Liege) for Oliveira, 60.

Referee: P Collina (Italy).