This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
Co-hosts the Netherlands cemented their status as the team to beat at Euro 2000 with a scintillating rout of an overawed Yugoslavia in Rotterdam. Having emerged from the group of death unscathed, Frank Rijkaard’s men added Vujadin Boškov’s experienced side to a list of victims that already included Denmark, Czech Republic and world champions France.
If victory over Les Bleus had left some fans fearing that their side had peaked too soon, then Oranje emphatically cast aside such notions with a performance straight from the canon of classic Totaalvoetbal displays. For 90 minutes, 44,000 fans in a buoyant De Kuip were treated to a masterclass in possession play, fluidity and attacking intent capped off by the predatory brilliance of Patrick Kluivert.
For Yugoslavia, it was the third time this tournament they’d been involved in a high-scoring affair, but, sadly, unlike the games against Spain and Slovenia, this thriller saw them cast in the role of hapless victims rather than contestants in an epic, back and forth battle.
Initially, it looked as though Yugoslavia may possess the tools to trouble their in-form opponents, with Siniša Mihajlović testing Edwin van der Sar with a fierce free-kick in the 11th minute. Moments later, the Plavi fashioned the first clear cut chance of the game as Savo Milošević dribbled past Frank de Boer before putting Predrag Mijatović through on goal, but the striker’s placed effort was parried away once more by Van der Sar.
The chance seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Dutch and, within seconds, the home nation had replied with an effort of their own, as Dennis Bergkamp’s curled strike was tipped away by Ivica Kralj. Soon after, Edgar Davids fired a gilt-edged opportunity over the bar after a silky one-two with Bergkamp.
From that moment on, the Dutch were relentless; Davids began to control the game from the centre while wingers Marc Overmars and Boudewijn Zenden ran the Yugoslav full-backs ragged. The more the hosts increased the tempo the less their opponents seemed able to cope, and it came as no surprise when the Yugoslavian resolve was halted in the 24th minute. A sublime ball over the top from Bergkamp wrong-footed Mihajlović, allowing Patrick Kluivert to control the ball in the box before toe-poking it past Kralj.
The Kluivert show had begun in earnest and within 15 minutes the Barcelona marksman had doubled this account. Another exquisite pass, this time a chipped through ball from Davids, found Kluivert in the box with the striker nonchalantly placing home his second from close range.
While the half time whistle brought the underdogs some welcome respite, the second stanza would begin in the same fashion as the first had ended. The Dutch continued to pepper the Yugoslav guard with attack after attack, their opponents too preoccupied with last-ditch clearances to harbour any attacking ambitions of their own.
The Dutch victory was sealed in the 52nd minute when Paul Bosvelt’s cross was bundled home from six yards in what initially looked to be a third Kluivert goal. While replays showed that the final touch had come off Yugoslav midfielder Dejan Govedaracia, the former Ajax prodigy would secure his hat-trick minutes later when his close-range volley finished off Zenden’s determined run down the left.
The party was well and truly underway. With their team’s place in semi-final beyond doubt, the already buoyant Dutch fans brought out everything from Mexican waves to the pre-emptive chants of “Kampioenen”, while Rijkaard was afforded the luxury of saving his star striker for the semis, as Kluivert departed to a rousing reception on the hour mark.
In Kluivert’s absence, it was Overmars who became Yugoslavia’s tormentor in chief; his thunderous volley made it 5-0 after 78 minutes before the Arsenal winger completed the thrashing in stoppage time with a rebounded close-range strike. Though Milosević would cap off a stellar personal tournament with a consolation strike deep into injury time, the former Aston Villa man’s subdued celebrations told the story of what had been a demoralising afternoon for himself and his countrymen.
Following the blueprint of the great Oranje teams of the past, Rijkaard’s talented Netherlands side produced one of the great European Championship performances in what was arguably their most convincing display since they lifted the trophy 12 years prior.
By James Sweeney @james_sweeney92