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EURO 2008 spotlight: How brilliant was the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder?

UEFA.com looks back at how Wesley Sneijder lit up UEFA EURO 2008.

Wesley Sneijder during UEFA EURO 2008
Wesley Sneijder during UEFA EURO 2008 AFP via Getty Images

An attacking midfielder with an eye for goal and a constant threat from set pieces, Wesley Sneijder was a key contributor for the Oranje as they swept into the knockout stages of UEFA EURO 2008.

EURO 2008

The Netherlands were eager to mark 20 years since lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in 1988, having fallen at the semi-final hurdle in three of the four EUROs since. Leading the Netherlands into UEFA EURO 2008 would be Marco van Basten, whose spectacular volley against the USSR had helped clinch that maiden title two decades previously.

EURO 2008 highlights: Spotlight on Wesley Sneijder
EURO 2008 highlights: Spotlight on Wesley Sneijder

• The Oranje opened their group campaign against reigning world champions Italy, who had got the better of the Netherlands via a penalty shoot-out in the last four of UEFA EURO 2000. The Dutch were aiming to break a barren run against the Azzurri, who they had not beaten since the 1978 FIFA World Cup.

• Sneijder, celebrating his 24th birthday, set them on their way to doing just that, supplying the delivery for his Real Madrid colleague Ruud van Nistelrooy to notch the 26th-minute opener. The midfielder added a second five minutes later by capping a fine move en route to a comprehensive 3-0 victory, as Italy suffered their heaviest loss since 1983.

• The Dutch booked their place in the quarter-finals with a stunning counterattacking performance in a 4-1 win against 2000 European champions France, Sneijder supplying the pass for Robben’s emphatic finish before supplying a spectacular strike himself in added time. This remains Les Bleus' biggest defeat at a UEFA European Championship final tournament.

• A much-changed Netherlands line-up (with Sneijder among nine players rested by Van Basten) did not prevent them from posting a perfect record in Group C, rounding off in style with a 2-0 success against Romania. Standing in their way in the last eight were surprise package Russia, with former Oranje coach Guus Hiddink at the helm.

EURO 2008 highlights: France 1-4 Netherlands
EURO 2008 highlights: France 1-4 Netherlands

• Unfortunately for Sneijder and Co, Hiddink was the only Dutchman celebrating at the final whistle after his Andrey Arshavin-inspired charges struck twice late in extra time to seal a semi-final berth after a 3-1 triumph. Sneijder and Van Nistelrooy combined to force an additional 30 minutes in the closing moments of the second half – the third assist of the competition for the playmaker. No player created more EURO goals in 2008, with Sneijder joining colleague Edwin van der Sar in the Team of the Tournament.

What you might not know

• Sneijder is of Greek descent – younger brother Rodney, a midfielder who also began his career at Ajax, revealed in 2014 that their paternal grandmother hailed from Kavala before moving to Utrecht.

• In 2010 Sneijder became the fifth Dutch player to notch five goals at a World Cup or EURO final tournament, after Johan Neeskens (1974), Rob Rensenbrink (1978), Marco van Basten (1988) and Patrick Kluivert (2000).

• The Netherlands can boast an enviable record in competitive matches in which Sneijder scored – winning all 19 such instances.

Highlights: The best goals of EURO 2008
Highlights: The best goals of EURO 2008

• He ended Edwin van der Sar’s 4,002-day reign as the Netherlands' most-capped player when scoring on his 131st senior international appearance in a 5-0 World Cup qualifying success against Luxembourg on 9 June 2017 – a double celebration given it was his 33rd birthday.

• He made his Netherlands debut in April 2003 under the watchful eye of Dick Advocaat – just under three months after bursting into Ajax’s first team. Advocaat, by now in his third spell with the national side, was also in charge for Sneijder's record-breaking 131st Dutch game 14 years later.

• Sneijder's 134th and final Oranje appearance – a 2-1 defeat of Peru in Amsterdam in September 2018 – came under coach Ronald Koeman, who had handed Sneijder his Ajax debut over 15 years earlier.

• In 2019, Utrecht-born Sneijder was honoured by city authorities when they renamed the Sportpark Thorbeckepark (a sports complex in the Ondiep district) "Sportpark Wesley Sneijder". The ground is home to amateur club DHSC, an offshoot of his former youth outfit DOS.

Wesley Sneijder and family on the pitch following his final cap
Wesley Sneijder and family on the pitch following his final capVI-Images via Getty Images

What he said

"I [played at] six tournaments and I tell you: it is the best thing there is, every round."

"At EURO 2008 we played super games against Italy and France. We tried the same against Russia and went home."

What they said

"Wesley is one of the best Dutch footballers of recent years. An excellent player with a lot of charisma."
Ronald Koeman, coach at Ajax and the Netherlands

"Wesley was technically good and was tactically bright. He wanted to win every game he played in. He had the drive to produce the best on the pitch."
Danny Blind, youth coach and coach at Ajax and the Netherlands

"One of the very best we've had. I can't remember a better midfielder from 2000 onwards. I also don't know anyone as perfectly two-footed as Wesley; that really set him apart from many other players."
Henk ten Cate, coach at Ajax

EURO 2008 official song: Enrique Iglesias
EURO 2008 official song: Enrique Iglesias

"Wesley Sneijder [was a] perfect No10. Sneijder could defend, get in the box and finish with goals."
José Mourinho, coach at Internazionale

"I think he got the most out of a wonderful career. Playing for Real Madrid, winning the UEFA Champions League, being the most-capped international; every boy dreams of that, right? If you add all that together, he is one of the best players we have had in the Netherlands."
Dick Advocaat, coach for the Netherlands

Final tally

International: 134 appearances, 31 goals
UEFA club competition:
99 appearances, 17 goals
Domestic competition:
469 appearances, 137 goals

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