Netherlands 2 Romania 0: Van Persie strikes to underline extent of Dutch dominance
Forget any talk of a carve-up. Nine Dutch reserves keen to emphasise their credentials for the challenges ahead proved much too good here last night for Romania, who were never close to the victory they needed once Italy took command of the other Group C game against France.
The Romanians, whistled by their own supporters at times for such a nerve-ridden performance, were left to rue more than ever the penalty missed by Adrian Mutu near the end of their previous game against Italy.
As they feared, this is a much more complete Dutch team than the one that took only one point off them in two qualifying matches. With a third successive win, incorporating nine goals, the Netherlands established themselves as firm favourites to beat Sweden or Russia in the quarter-final on Saturday. Arsenal's Robin van Persie, hoping to oust Rafael van der Vaart from the central midfield position just behind the main striker, was outstanding even before he thrashed in a late goal to add to Klaas Jan Huntelaar's. The surprise was that Marco van Basten's team took until the 54th minute to score.
Only in the casual manner in which Huntelaar and Arjen Robben missed chances before half-time was there any suggestion that the Oranje were taking the game less seriously than they might have done. Van Basten had insisted all along that his team would treat the game respectfully, though he was never going to select a first-choice team. Romania seemed to suffer worse, however, from the absence of suspended centre-half Dorin Goian, midfielder Mirel Radoi and the squad's most accomplished striker, Ciprian Marica, who did not play one minute of the tournament. Although one Niculae – Daniel of Auxerre – was replaced in attack with another one, Marius of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the change was unsuccessful and had to be reversed in the second half.
Romania's coach, Victor Piturca, said he was hoping to find the Netherlands lacking in concentration, but the intensity with which players like Van Persie chased everything early on must have concerned him as much as his own team's evident nervousness. They should have been two goals down in 40 minutes. First Ibrahim Afellay played the former Chelsea defender Khalid Boulahrouz in on the right and, from his cut-back, Huntelaar shot carelessly over the bar. His better touch then put Robben clean through, only for him to jab the ball to the wrong side of the goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont and wide of a post.
Boulahrouz had plenty of room to attack because Mutu was neglecting his defensive duties by pushing forward more than in the previous games. Mutu was, however, involved in Romania's best move of the game, just before the interval, setting up the left-back Razvan Rat to cross for Paul Codrea, who wasted a glorious chance by hammering his shot much too high. By that time, the scoreboards at each end of the ground had already flashed up the news Romania did not want to see, that Italy were ahead in Zurich.
In the opening minutes of the second half Van Persie took John Heitinga's pass out of the sky with one delicious touch, turning in the same movement to shoot and force a superb low save from Lobont. When the Romanian defence failed to deal with Afellay's cross from the right soon afterwards, Orlando Engelaar caused a distraction and Huntelaar arrived on the scene to knock in his eighth goal in 13 internationals.
The first crop of substitutions saw an entry into the tournament for Wigan's Mario Melchiot, and then a run-out for Dirk Kuyt, just before news of Italy's second goal spread to demoralise Piturca's team further. Even then they failed to throw everything into attack and gave Edwin van der Sar's deputy in goal, Maarten Stekelenburg little chance to prove his capabilities. In the 87th minute Van Persie rounded off his excellent performance with a second goal for the Dutch, driving in Demy de Zeeuw's pass to give the scoreline a more realistic look.
Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (Ajax); Boulahrouz (Seville), Heitinga (Ajax), Bouma (Aston Villa), De Cler (Feyenoord); De Zeeuw (Alkmaar), Engelaar (Twente); Afellay (PSV Eindhoven), Van Persie (Arsenal), Robben (Real Madrid); Huntelaar (Ajax). Substitutes used: Melchiot (Wigan) for Boulahrouz, 58; Kuyt (Liverpool) for Robben, 61; Vennegoor of Hesselink (Celtic) for Huntelaar, 83.
Romania (4-3-2-1): Lobont (Dinamo); Contra (Getafe), Ghionea (Steaua), Tamas (Auxerre), Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk); Cocis (Lokomotiv Moscow), Codrea (Sienna), Chivu (Internazionale); Nicolita (Steaua), Mutu (Fiorentina); M Niculae (Inverness CT). Substitutes used: D Niculae (Auxerre) for M Niculae, 59; Dica (Steaua) for Codrea, 72; Petre (CSKA Sofia) for Nicolita, 82.
Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).
Booked: Romania Chivu.
Man of the match: Van Persie.