Europe's bitter derby is money well spent for fans

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The Independent Online

The French tout in Oporto was asking €400 - about £285 - for a pair of tickets before this game that Portugal's biggest selling sports newspaper, O Jogo, was labelling with the simple headline "European classic". It was short and sweet and not much more hype than that was needed.

The French tout in Oporto was asking €400 - about £285 - for a pair of tickets before this game that Portugal's biggest selling sports newspaper, O Jogo, was labelling with the simple headline "European classic". It was short and sweet and not much more hype than that was needed.

After all some games do what they say on the tin. France against England on Sunday was one of those and this was the second major derby of Euro 2004 in a tournament full of them. This was not a classic as the Netherlands were fortunate to draw a game that Germany dominated.

Names such as Marco Van Basten in 1988, Jurgen Klinsmann in 1990 and Dennis Bergkamp in 1992 trip off the tongue as some of the two countries' finest players and all scored in Netherlands-Germany encounters in those summers. Two new players have now joined that illustrious band. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Torsten Frings.

Frings's goal was a fluke as he tried to find the likes of Kevin Kuranyi and Michael Ballack in the six-yard area. When nobody got a touch, Edwin van der Sar was helpless to recover his ground and stop the curling free-kick going inside his far post.

Despite the frequency with which both these countries reach tournament finals, this was the first time they have actually faced each other since the 1992 European Championship. However time has not healed any old wounds. Van Nistelrooy was claiming the hostility beforehand that the enmity between both sides was still down to World War Two.

In 1992 the Dutch won their group game easily but still the Germans reached the final. It has been like that for most of the last 30 years for these unfriendly neighbours, ever since Franz Beckenbauer led West Germany to victory in the 1974 World Cup Final. It was the case then, as now, that the Dutch play football that is more pleasing on the eye but the Germans usually win.

However, that did not happen in 1988, as the Netherlands finally asserted themselves when it mattered in the semi-finals of that summer's European Championship. Victory then followed in the final against the Soviet Union.

Two years later came arguably the low point in Germany-Netherlands games when Frank Rijkaard spat at Rudi Völler in their World Cup second-round game. Both were sent off but Germany won.

Unlike England against France, once Germany took the lead they became more expansive, keeping the ball and looking more likely to score a second goal. With every passing minute, as Dietmar Hamann neutralised Edgar Davids and Philip Cocu in midfield and as Michael Ballack roamed to greater effect, Dutch confidence was being eroded. Van Nistelrooy's near-post strike was typical of so many of his goals for Manchester United and spared the Dutch an uphill task to reach the last eight.

It meant instead these two teams could yet meet again in the final. Now that really would be worth €400 of anyone's money.

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