The Netherlands ended their Group 3 campaign with an emphatic 5-0 victory against Moldova to ensure they will go into the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2004™ in good heart.
The home side kicked off knowing that, while they would be unable to overhaul the Czech Republic at the top of the section, they were guaranteed second place, and coach Dick Advocaat used the opportunity to rotate his players.
Frank de Boer and Boudewijn Zenden were both left on the substitutes' bench as both were within one yellow card of suspension, while striker Ruud van Nistelrooij was left out of the squad altogether as a disciplinary measure. FC Barcelona pair Marc Overmars and Giovanni van Bronckhorst were recalled to the starting lineup, while AFC Ajax midfield player Wesley Sneijder made his first international start.
The home side were on top from the outset, although Moldova defended staunchly and frequently brought everyone back behind the ball. The first shot on goal did not arrive until the 15th minute, when Patrick Kluivert capitalised on a misunderstanding in the Moldovan defence but was unable to convert the chance.
However, it was not all one-way traffic, with Serguei Dadu and Victor Barîsev combining to threaten Edwin van der Sar's goal. Advocaat introduced striker Roy Makaay for defender Michael Reiziger midway through the first half, but only a last-gasp intervention from Dutch defender Jaap Stam kept the scoresheet blank.
The breakthrough finally arrived two minutes before half-time as Kluivert headed an Overmars cross into the net, and it was 2-0 five minutes after the restart when Sneijder converted Kluivert's pass for his first international goal.
Van Hooijdonk spot on
Barîsev and Ion Testemitanu both had chances to halve the deficit, but neither were able to find the target. Kluivert's replacement, Pierre van Hooijdonk, scored a third 17 minutes from time, converting a penalty after being brought down in the area.
Van der Vaart inspiration
Another Ajax youngster, Rafael van der Vaart, made the score 4-0 with ten minutes left, and the same player created a fifth for Arjen Robben in the final minute. Moldova finished the campaign in fourth place in the standings with six points.
'No easy games'
"In international soccer, there are no easy opponents," Advocaat said. "This week, I felt the pressure from the fans and from the media, and
I asked my players to do their very best to show the public their goodwill and the good intentions of the team, and we saw that tonight. I was particularly pleased to see Sneijder and Robben play so well."
Van der Sar honoured
After the game, Van der Sar received a silver plate from the Royal Netherlands Football Association for winning his 75th cap.