Holland 1 Italy 3: Van Basten's golden touch tarnished by Italians

Click to follow
The Independent Football

So Marco van Basten may not be the alchemist that Dutch football - and apparently Milan, who want their former striker's services after next year's World Cup - believe he is. This was the first defeat suffered by the 41-year-old in his 17 matches in charge of the Oranje. Indeed it was his first defeat ever as a coach.

It was also the first time these two nations had met since the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2000 when, in the same stadium, the 10 men of Italy triumphed on penalties after the Dutch had missed spot-kicks in normal time.

The Dutch were unfortunate again last night, especially through the highly-impressive Dirk Kuyt. But as an indicator for how these two heavyweights will fare in Germany next summer, it appears the vastly more seasoned Italians are a little further in their progress even if no one qualified for the tournament more comfortably than Holland.

Denied, through injury, of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben, they had to improvise once more. That has not been something that has fazed Van Basten throughout his brief tenure. The three-times European Footballer of the Year has swept out the old, ego-driven guard and handed debuts to 18 players, many of whom have come from outside the traditional triumvirate of Dutch clubs.

It meant that there was, for example, only one Ajax player in the starting line-up. Still it was Ryan Babel, just 18-years-old, who stole in from the left-wing to provide the Dutch with the lead after the ball had ran to him from Kuyt's blocked shot.

Kuyt, the Feyenoord striker coveted by both north London clubs, had earlier tested Christian Abbiati with a clever chip and had a goal disallowed for offside after the goalkeeper had spilled Rafael van der Vaart's long-range shot. The Italians were also unfortunate when Gianluca Zambrotta was adjudged to have let the ball run out before crossing for Alberto Gilardino to volley into the net.

But the Milan striker was not to be denied and just four minutes after the Dutch went in front his header, from inside the six-yard area, beat Edwin van der Sar. It was his sixth goal in just 11 appearances. The Manchester United goalkeeper was incensed - his defenders had been slow to deny space to Alessandro del Piero - and was left even more exasperated as Ron Vlaar headed in for an own goal from Mauro Camoranesi's flick to put Italy ahead on half-time.

In fairness the Italians were much closer to full-strength than their hosts, but it was a forceful recovery nevertheless. It was also unfortunate for the Dutch who had forced the pace, although they were vulnerable to the power of the Fiorentina striker Luca Toni and the directness of Gilardino.

That proved to be the case just after the restart when Toni outmuscled the by now hapless Vlaar - who was soon withdrawn - and poked his shot beyond Henk Timmer, who was just four minutes into his debut, having replaced Van der Sar.

The Dutch appealed for a penalty after Alessandro Nesta appeared to handle and then Kuyt was desperately unfortunate to see his header come back off a post from a corner. They continued to attack, but to little effect while Van Basten knew that the callowness of his young players was their undoing.