A night which began ominously for the Oranje ended in triumph, thanks to a combination of Ruud van Nistelrooy's ruthlessness and the reserve power of the Czech Republic. A routine victory for the Netherlands, allied to events in the Portuguese capital, ensured that Dick Advocaat's side finished runners-up in Group D to earn a quarter-final date with Sweden - and a potential semi-final against England.
A night which began ominously for the Oranje ended in jubilation, thanks to a combination of Ruud van Nistelrooy's ruthlessness and the reserve power of the Czech Republic. A routine win for the Netherlands, allied to events in Lisbon, ensured Dick Advocaat's side finished runners-up in Group D to earn a quarter-final with Sweden and a potential semi-final against England.
Van Nistelrooy took his goal tally for Euro 2004 to four with two before half-time, the first a penalty and the second a typically predatory header. Roy Makaay, who replaced the Manchester United striker once it was clear Latvia's spirited showing would be in vain, added a third in the closing stages.
Advocaat, the Dutch coach, said: "It was very difficult to focus on the match all the time because we knew from the crowd's reaction what was happening in the other match. Now we play the Swedes, a team we know everything about and who we would normally beat."
Philip Cocu, who was tireless in midfield, added: "We have to thank the Czechs for beating the Germans. We realised from the noise that they had gone 2-1 up and that gave us an extra push."
Yet the pre-match news that the Czechs had rested nine first-choice players against Germany clearly deflated the Dutch. At the venue with a cliff face behind one goal, they seemed to have a mountain to climb.
The mood was subdued at the start and became almost eerily calm as news of Michael Ballack's early goal in the Portuguese capital filtered through. The Netherlands, for whom Cocu and Van Nistelrooy were thwarted by Aleksandrs Kolinko as they mounted early pressure, needed a boost to their morale.
Edgar Davids provided it after 26 minutes, the referee adjudging him to have been taken down by Mihalis Zewlinskis and Aleksandrs Isakov as he burst into the penalty area. Van Nistelrooy clinically dispatched the spot-kick.
Word arrived of the Czech equaliser and the atmosphere was transformed. Songs cascaded from the stands, drums banged, trumpets blared and the previously morose Dutch masses were pogoing like punks. "Czech-ee! Czech-ee!" they chanted, and 10 minutes before half-time they had another goal of their own to acclaim.
Clarence Seedorf swung in a free-kick. Latvia, who dealt adeptly with Germany's long-ball game last Saturday, failed to pick up Cocu at the far post. The midfielder headed back across goal for Van Nistelrooy to nod the ball over the line from point-blank range.
The Netherlands had seen a 2-0 lead turned into a shattering defeat by Pavel Nedved and his compatriots. Latvia, moreover, came from two down to draw in Turkey when qualifying via the play-offs. The way Aleksandrs Starkovs' side started the second half suggested they believed they could do it again.
The move of the match, a precise series of passes in the 47th minute, saw Andrejs Prohorenkovs' first-time cross reach Andrejs Rubins as he charged in unchecked. A fine save by Edwin van der Sar denied the former Crystal Palace winger.
Despite that flurry, there was an unmistakable sense that the Netherlands considered the match won. They raised their game periodically, notably when Cocu threaded a pass to Andy van der Meyde, who turned his marker in a blur before rolling the ball wide to Van Nistelrooy. Kolinko sprawled to push aside the shot that could have produced the tournament's first hat-trick.
The withdrawal of Van der Meyde, Van Nistelrooy and Davids was a sure sign that Advocaat wanted his frontline players fresh for the quarter-final that was looming tantalisingly into view. Arjen Robben, soon to be a £13.5m recruit for Chelsea, had the chance to put the Dutch victory beyond any lingering doubt, but headed wide from Overmars' cross.
The miss did not reflect Robben's overall display, which was full of industry and invention. With six minutes left, he set up Makaay, the under-used substitute rounding a defender before scoring with aplomb. None of the goals, however, provoked as much relief and rapture as Milan Baros' winner for the Czechs.Reuse content