The Netherlands moved ahead of the Czech Republic at the top of UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 3 on Saturday thanks to a 2-0 victory against Belarus.
Moments of class
The Dutch, who lost 1-0 on their last trip to Minsk in a qualifying match for EURO 96™, could be usurped as section leaders when the Czechs face Moldova at home on Wednesday but two moments of class from Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert after the break secured three points from a game where the visitors had looked less than the sum of their parts in the opening period.
Advocaat on Reiziger
Dutch coach Dick Advocaat admitted afterwards he was not happy with some of his players. "Michael Reiziger hardly gave any support to our midfield and that was our weakness in the first half," he said of the FC Barcelona defender who was substituted at half-time. "With Paul Bosvelt on in place of Reiziger in the second half we took control and other players like Clarence Seedorf and Phillip Cocu did what I expected from them.
"We came here to win and we did, but I am not satisfied about the way we played. We prepared ourselves professionally and we knew how our opponents would play, so it is disappointing to see how some of my players failed to do what they were told."
Despite playing a behind-closed-doors friendly against AFC Ajax last week, the Netherlands lacked sharpness and imagination in the first half against a team they overcame 3-0 in Eindhoven in September. The home side, roared on by their supporters, began the match purposefully, making several promising incursions on both flanks.
The Dutch only fashioned their first chance in the 21st minute, Seedorf driving centimetres over after finding space for himself on the right side of the area. Jaap Stam then shot high over the bar when he had the time inside the box to compose himself and pick his spot.
Mark van Bommel was the only other Dutchman to threaten early on, squeezing a weak shot from the edge of the D which was too central to trouble goalkeeper Gennadi Tumilovich. But if the Dutch were struggling to impose themselves so too were Belarus, who failed to force a save from the unruffled Edwin van der Sar.
Clearly fired up by Advocaat's half-time team talk, Kluivert went close in the 52nd minute, drawing a fine stop from Tumilovich, who blocked again from the rebound which fell to Cocu. Overmars opened the scoring immediately after replacing Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the 64th minute, jinking in from the right and holding off several challenges before drilling into the top corner from outside the box.
The spectacular strike galvanised the visitors, who doubled their lead when Seedorf's angled ball from the right was collected by Kluivert and delicately chipped in. The Barcelona forward had taken up the perfect position, timing his run majestically, and the lob moved him past Dennis Bergkamp and on to a Dutch record 38 international goals.
The Netherlands' next match is at home to Austria on 6 September, while Belarus face the same opposition away on Wednesday.