The Netherlands ended a 30-year wait for a victory over Italy in emphatic fashion as they began their UEFA EURO 2008 campaign with a rousing win against the world champions in Switzerland.
Ruud van Nistelrooy side-footed the Oranje ahead in the 26th minute, a lead doubled superbly by then Real Madrid CF colleague Wesley Sneijder soon after. Edwin van der Sar, becoming only the third player to appear in four UEFA European Championships, kept the advantage intact, leaving Giovanni van Bronckhorst to complete Italy's worst-ever EURO defeat.
With coaches Marco van Basten and Roberto Donadoni schooled under Arrigo Sacchi at AC Milan, an attacking treat was always in store. So it proved, Antonio Di Natale narrowly failing to free Luca Toni in only the second minute. The FC Bayern München striker did get an early glimpse of goal, rising to flick a header wide, yet from then on the Dutch dominated the half.
Dirk Kuyt outmuscled Gianluca Zambrotta and slipped a delicious low ball to Van Nistelrooy, who touched it beyond the outrushing Gianluigi Buffon but stayed on his feet after making contact with the Italy captain. That was the last act of charity from the Dutch, as the Azzurri paid for the concession of a number of free-kicks on the periphery of their area.
Sneijder fizzed one set piece in from the left which Marco Materazzi headed clear. Then Rafael van der Vaart did likewise from the right, the scrambling Buffon's punched clearance eventually reaching birthday boy Sneijder, whose powerful drive from the corner of the box was turned in by Van Nistelrooy.
Italy went close to levelling from a corner yet were caught flat-footed when Van Bronckhorst, who had cleared off the line, was able to charge half the length of the field unchallenged. The Feyenoord man had time to ping a perfect crossfield ball to the industrious Kuyt whose cushioned header was spectacularly hooked inside Buffon's near post by the leaping Sneijder.
Italy's three-man midfield could not contain Sneijder as he probed the left. He created space for Van Bronckhorst and also Van der Vaart, who dissected an Azzurri back line missing injured captain Fabio Cannavaro with a pass that released Van Nistelrooy on goal. Buffon stood tall, however, clipping the shot over with his feet.
Italy improved after the break. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero failed to profit from two half-chances, Toni lofted a shot over and Van der Sar foiled Fabio Grosso at close range before diving at full stretch to keep out a Pirlo free-kick. It left Van Bronckhorst to wrap things up at the other end following smart work by Kuyt.