The Netherlands secured their place in the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-finals with a game to spare after producing another devastating display against France in Berne, with Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder all scoring in a memorable win.
Twenty years after his goals led the Netherlands to the European title, Marco van Basten's 2008 crop underlined their case as serious contenders by building on their defeat of Italy to tie up first place in Group C. There may have been less of the flamboyance they had shown in beating the Azzurri – the Dutch riding their luck at times after Kuyt's early breakthrough – but the speed of their counterattacking play was again in rich evidence, never more so than in the second goal scored by Van Persie after a lightning surge by Robben.
Even when Thierry Henry halved the deficit, Robben immediately restored the two-goal cushion to leave France, punished further by Sneijder, joint-bottom of the section with a solitary point. They have everything to do against Italy on Tuesday, when the Netherlands play second-placed Romania.
France, under pressure to perform following their opening stalemate against Romania, came out with Henry installed as leader of the line in place of Nicolas Anelka and Sidney Govou drafted in on the right, allowing Franck Ribéry to play as second striker. "Time to step up a gear" declared the front page of the morning's L'Equipe newspaper yet within nine minutes they were behind, Kuyt striking from the game's first corner. Rafael van der Vaart swung the ball in and the Liverpool FC forward got in front of Florent Malouda to nod past Grégory Coupet.
Kuyt then nearly profited from Lilian Thuram's misdirected header but, at full stretch, steered over. Les Bleus gradually found their stride, however, with Govou stepping past Joris Mathijsen and sending in a low drive that Edwin van der Sar saved with his legs. The volume of the France supporters began to rise as Florent Malouda, Govou and then the busy Ribéry all tested Van der Sar and Domenech's team picked up where they had left off on the restart as Henry pounced on a deflected centre by Patrice Evra – starting instead of Eric Abidal – and shot goalwards only to be denied by André Ooijer's block.
The FC Barcelona striker had an even better chance soon after but put too much weight on his lob after Malouda's acrobatic chip had sent him clear. How he was left to rue that miss when the Netherlands' two substitutes combined for the second goal after 59 minutes. Ruud van Nistelrooy sent Robben speeding down the left and his cross was volleyed in by Van Persie off the hand of Coupet.
The excellent Van der Sar palmed away Ribéry's shot as France sought a lifeline and it came when Willy Sagnol provided the low ball for Henry to reduce the shortfall with a neat flick after 71 minutes. Yet hopes of a comeback lasted less than a minute. The tannoy music had barely stopped playing when Robben concluded a three-man move by blasting the ball between Coupet and his near post.
Things only got worse for France, for whom this defeat was the worst in UEFA European Championship finals history, as Sneijder rounded off a stunning win in suitably spectacular fashion – driving in a fourth off the underside of the bar in added time.