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The Netherlands were at last able to produce the performance of which they have always seemed capable to secure their passage to the UEFA EURO 2004™ quarter-finals.
Passion and skill
Dick Advocaat's side had come in for much criticism after their collapse against the Czech Republic on Saturday, but here they brushed aside Latvia in a display of passion and no small amount of skill. The qualities of players like Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooij are there for all to see, but when the Dutch can add determination to their undoubted ability, it can be a potent brew.
From the outset the Netherlands went in search of victory hoping that a weakened Czech Republic could do them a favour by holding Germany to a draw in Lisbon. In fact, a makeshift Czech side went one better and produced a 2-1 victory, paving the way for a Netherlands versus Sweden encounter on Saturday in Faro-Loulé.
Focused on Braga
Advocaat said: "We were really focused on our game and not thinking about the other one. The important thing was to win our game and we concentrated for the entire game - we gave only one half-chance away in the first half and created enough chances ourselves to have won the match by more than 3-0. You saw the way everyone reacted after the win. This is more important than all the criticism. I was very happy with the reaction of the players on the pitch."
Van Nistelrooij strikes
At first it looked as if it would be another tale of missed opportunities for the Dutch with Van Nistelrooij particularly wasteful in the early stages. However, the Manchester United FC striker made amends on 27 minutes stroking home a penalty after Edgar Davids had earned his side a penalty and Van Nistelrooij was in the right place again eight minutes later when he stooped to nod in a Phillip Cocu knockdown at the back post.
Robben, who was substituted by Advocaat during their 3-2 defeat against the Czech Republic, was prominent throughout and his jinking run past three defenders to create the third for substitute Roy Makaay with minutes left was an a joy to behold.
'It is fantastic'
Van Nistelrooij, who won the Carlsberg Man of the Match award, was delighted with the team's performance and thanked the Czech Republic for getting a result against the Germans "It is fantastic," he said. "Luck was with us this time. It's party time now, but it was deserved. We had to hope, but of course we thank the Czechs. When it was 2-0, we thought of the other game in Lisbon."
Latvian coach Aleksandrs Startkovs was magnanimous in defeat and can be proud of the efforts of his own players in Portugal. They secured a point in their first major finals by holding - and ultimately eliminating - Germany, and led the Czech Republic of much of the second half before losing 2-1.
"First of all I want to congratulate the Netherlands because they deserved to qualify for the quarter finals," said Starkovs. "It was a really bad first half and I think the Dutch players were quicker and had better technique than our players. After the first half the players came in and they were not happy but the strongest team won today so it was a fair result."
He added: "It is our biggest success in our short history. I think we have got a great deal of experience in this tournament and we will try to use it in future to get better results."
But for the Netherlands the tournament continues, and Group C winners Sweden will prove tough opposition. Advocaat is well aware of the strengths of Sweden's leading scorer Henrik Larsson from when the striker starred for Celtic FC during the coach's time in charge of Scottish arch-rivals Rangers FC.
"You know what I think about Larsson, he is a world-class goalscorer," Advocaat said. "He still is doing his job for Sweden and is a key player for the team. We know what we have to do."
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