The Netherlands' manager Marco van Basten has a serious problem: how to select only 11 players to start Saturday's quarter-final in Basle against Russia when he has 23 fit and raring to go. Unlike Germany, Italy and others, the Dutch not only cruised through their group with a 100 per cent record but avoided picking up any injuries or suspensions along the way. Indeed, players not fully fit for the opening two games, like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Mario Melchiot, all demonstrated in the 2-0 win against Romania on Tuesday that they are back in contention.
Arsenal's Van Persie was rightly adjudged by the Uefa technical committee to be the man of the match, his commitment in sprinting to keep a ball in play in the first few minutes negating any suggestion that Van Basten's team would be taking things easy to allow Romania to eliminate both France and Italy. Just as important, Van Persie, who started only 13 League games all season for his club, was still full of running at the finish, scoring a fine goal in the 87th minute to add to Klaas Jan Huntelaar's.
"I'm fresh mentally and physically," he said, "because that's my first 90 minutes in two and a half months. Of course I want to start on Saturday but every player does and we have 23 good ones.
"With this squad I really have the feeling that we are unbeatable, though we have to take it step by step. That is why I just want to be part of the team as it feels like something beautiful is going to happen. But this is just part of the dream, not the end. We need to win three more matches."
A semi-final against Italy, who the Dutch have already beaten 3-0, or Spain ought to be on the cards and they would have no reason to fear either of them after running in nine goals in three games, with seven different scorers. It is a remarkable improvement on a qualifying record of only 15 goals in 12 matches, achieved while maintaining defensive security with the 4-2-3-1 formation that senior players persuaded Van Basten to adopt as a more modern version of the Dutch 4-3-3. "Now the group is over and the real finals are starting," the coach warned yesterday.