By Pete Sanderson in the Amsterdam ArenA
Ruud van Nistelrooij fired a timely hat-trick as the Netherlands booked their ticket to UEFA EURO 2004™ with a breathtaking display of attacking football in Amsterdam.
AFC Ajax midfield player Wesley Sneijder opened the scoring with a thunderous 13th-minute strike before teeing up André Ooijer and Van Nistelrooij to give the Dutch a two-goal advantage at the break. Two more Van Nistelrooij goals either side of Frank de Boer's header killed off the game as a contest and ended any lingering hopes Scotland had of a comeback.
In the first leg Berti Vogts's side had survived wave after wave of Dutch attacks to give themselves more than a fighting chance of progressing to Portugal but somehow - amid the cat-calling and cacophony of the Netherlands camp - Dick Advocaat's team found enough spirit to completely overwhelm the Scottish resistance.
It was Internazionale FC winger Andy van der Meyde who engineered the first real opportunity of the match. His jinking run down the right bamboozled both Paul Dickov and Gary Naysmith and Rafael van der Vaart's header from the resulting cross flew centimetres over the bar.
As the Netherlands' confidence steadily grew, it was Van Nistelrooij's turn to test the visitors' resolve but his low shot was well held by Rab Douglas. With incessant pressure from the Dutch it seemed only a matter of time before the Scottish defence would crumble. The inevitable goal finally arrived thanks to a wonderful piece of skill from Sneijder, who turned Scotland captain Barry Ferguson in midfield before sending a stinging drive beyond the hapless Douglas to level the tie on aggregate.
It was the crucial early breakthrough which Advocaat had demanded and it lifted the tension at the Amsterdam ArenA. The goal also seemed to inspire the opposition - Lee Wilkie, Dickov and James McFadden all threatened the Dutch goal, but what could have been a priceless away strike never materialised.
If Scotland thought they had weathered the Dutch storm, they could not have been more wrong. Sneijder turned the game back in the home side's favour, setting up two carbon-copy goals from set-pieces on the left-hand side. The first arrived from a whipped-in cross which left Douglas flapping on 32 minutes - allowing Ooijer to score. The second, five minutes later, was another dangerous ball which Van Nistelrooij converted with a towering header.
Scotland had a chance to haul themselves back into contention one minute before half-time, but Wilkie's header was pushed wide by Edwin van der Sar - and the visitors barely threatened again. After the break, the Dutch continued where they had left off, with Van Nistelrooij striking the killer fourth in the 51st minute. The Manchester United FC forward coolly lifted the ball over Douglas after a swift exchange with Van der Vaart.
It was substitute De Boer who turned in Sneijder's corner to make it five on 65 minutes and the Netherlands were now playing the kind of fantasy football we have come to expect of a side brimming with talented individuals. It was not long before Van Nistelrooij completed his hat-trick, turning in Van der Meyde's cross from the right. The goal capped a display which marked a perfect riposte by the Dutch to a week of turmoil and controversy.
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