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Sports

Netherlands in Thrilling Form Against France

The Netherlands beat France 4-1 in a thrilling encounter to secure their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008. The blues still have to secure a win after two games.

Van Persie embracing Arjen Robben after the former scored Holland's second goal

Van Persie and Arjen Robben scored number two and number three

The Dutch team made a strong showing from the start with Dirk Kuyt and substitute Robin van Persie putting Holland 2-0 up after an hour.

Thierry Henry managed to pull one back for France (71st minute), but another substitute, Arjen Robben, scored 30 seconds later and Wesley Sneijder completed the win in injury time with a superb strike.

World Cup runners-up France will face World Cup winners Italy, who also have one point from two matches, in their final group C match on Tuesday. But both sides, who have put on rather less glorious performances in this championship, will be out if Romania beat the Netherlands on the same day.

Dutch surprise themselves

Dirk Kuyt scoring the first goal

Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt kicked off the series

"We're still trying to get our heads around this," the Netherlands' former Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy said.

"We couldn't have expected this, we didn't have the best of form in the qualifying or coming in, but now it seems it is all falling into place. Now I think the confidence is there and it's lifting the team," he added.

The Dutch, unchanged from the side that hammered Italy 3-0 in their opening match, began superbly and Kuyt put them in front in the ninth minute, beating Florent Malouda to head home from a corner.

Kuyt almost made it 2-0 with a chance soon after, but France came back into the match and Sydney Govou, preferred to Nicolas Anelka, had a couple of chances, only to be denied by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

France came out firing after half-time and Henry, who was restored to the starting line-up after injury, lobbed a volley just over the bar.

Fine piece of coaching

Van Persie scoring a goal

Van Persie quickly showed the wisdom of the Dutch coach's decision

But it was Dutch coach Marco van Basten's substitutions that proved decisive. He replaced holding midfielder Orlando Engelaar at half-time for the speed and attacking thrust of Robben, and after 10 minutes striker Robin van Persie came on for Kuyt.

"It gave us greater possibilities to go deeper and give us more space to attack again. These players are quick and technically good and so we were more dangerous in the second half even though France were creating more pressure," van Basten said.

"I have to compliment the defense because there was a lot of pressure and in the end we made some good goals with some good counter-attacks which has made us all very happy."

The second Dutch goal was brilliantly executed, with van Nistelrooy near the halfway line cleverly feeding the ball through to substitute Robben, who sped down the wing and crossed for van Persie to volley home off the hand of Gregory Coupet.

France continued to press, though, and with 19 minutes to go, Willy Sagnol broke down the right, fed the ball low into the box and Henry scored with a neat left-foot finish.

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry was fighting a losing battle despite pulling one back for France

But France were then undone by a moment of brilliance from Robben, who, having broken down the left again but with seemingly nowhere to go, fired a shot high past Coupet to make it 3-1.

Robben and Van Nistelrooy both went close to increasing their lead late on, while Patrice Evra fired a shot wide for France and Franck Ribery lifted a free kick just over.

Sneijder then completed the victory with a brilliant turn and shot from outside the area to send the Dutch fans wild. It was another outstanding display by the Real Madrid midfielder, who picked up the man-of-the-match award as he did against Italy.

Dutch won't put their feet up

Two Dutch fans in orange - a man with bunches of carrots suspended around his ears and a golden helmet, and a woman with a golden hat nibbling on one of his carrots

It wasn't just the Dutch squad that put on a colorful performance

The result leaves the Netherlands able to take it easy in the last game against Romania, but van Basten dismissed any idea of allowing Romania to win to eliminate two tough rivals in France and Italy.

Van Basten said he had not considered whether he would be playing reserves for the Romania game. "We will start thinking about that game tomorrow but we will prepare for it seriously," he said.

Meanwhile France coach Raymond Domenech put a brave face on the defeat, knowing his side's fate is no longer in his hands.

"We tried to play and win but there were some unfortunate moments. There were moments in which we set ourselves up to be successful but we had a lot of bad luck," he said.

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