Posts Tagged ‘Marco van Basten’

Ajax 1-1 Fiorentina: A Dutch Kick in the Teeth for La Viola (UEFA Cup Round of 32, 2nd Leg)

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Ajax player Leonardo, right, scores 1-1 as Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastien Frey, center, dives to stop the ball during their UEFA Cup round of 32 second leg soccer match at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday Feb. 26, 2009. Ajax continues to the next round. (AP Photo)

When a team competes in both its domestic league and European cups, there are bound to be subtle differences in the way they play in each competition. Sometimes, the difference isn’t even so subtle. You wanna know in the last month what that difference is for Fiorentina? Domestically, La Viola play average and get full points from their matches; in Europe, they dominate for 90 minutes and are left with nothing.

Marco Van Basten & his Ajax boys can celebrate on the latter.


Fiorentina 0-1 Ajax: Van Basten Conquers Firenze (UEFA Cup Round of 32, 1st Leg)

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu reacts during their UEFA Cup soccer match against Ajax Amsterdam at the A. Franchi stadium in Florence February 19, 2009.

To say that Marco Van Basten shares a special bond with Italy would be like the understatement of the century: his biggest achievements as a player (including the 3 Ballon d’Or and 2 Champions League titles) came during the years spent in the peninsula (as I’m sure AC Milan fans remember fondly). However, since he hung up his boots and donned a sleek Giorgio Armani manager jacket (dunno if it’s Armani actually, but I’m sure he likes to keep it classy) Van Basten seems to take some sort of perverse pleasure at tormenting Italian teams. I don’t have to remind anyone about recent Euro 2008 history, right?

Well yesterday marked yet another notch in MVB’s belt. Like the creepy & mysterious uncle you never like to invite at weddings, the Dutch manager’s Ajax made a trip to the banquet (Stadio Artemio Franchi) on Thursday, blocked traffic (La Viola’s forwards) in the parking lot, ate all the hors d’oeuvres & drank all the booze (their midfield), took a big dump in the wedding cake (their defense), then proceeded to made dirty jokes about the bride (Prandelli) and left the ceremony. But not before unleashing a mean left hook right into the groom’s (Fiorentina) face.

Yeah sounds about right.


Azzurri & Les Bleus: Destinies Intertwined with Oranje… and Biscuits

Monday, June 16th, 2008

For all those of you who understand a bit of Italian (at least enough to scan through headlines of sports websites), the big boot’s topic of conversation these past few days gravitated around a Dutch-Romanian “biscotto”. Huh? Biscotto? Doesn’t that mean “biscuit”? Indeed it does, but in the language of Dante Alighieri it also has a secondary meaning.

The Fantagrumo blog has an excellent explanation, which I’ve translated below:

“Biscotto” is an Italian colloquialism often employed in soccer (or other sports), used to describe a result secretly agreed upon in advance by two athletes or teams. It is practically synonymous with the French word “combine”, which can be translated in English as “trick”, “scheme” or “fiddle”. A “combine” is a close pact made to fix the result of a match before it actually takes place, usually in exchange for money (essentially, we are talking about corruption). “Biscotto” is more specific in the sense there need not be an exchange of money, because the secretly-agreed-upon result is of mutual benefit to the agreeing parties.

Actions taken in result of a “combine” or “biscotto” may vary: from losing a game deliberately, allowing an opponent to tie the game, or intentionally failing to man-mark an opposing striker. The direct result of the secret agreement naturally damages a third party, which is usually a direct opponent of those involved in the scheme.

The word “biscotto” derives from the latin root bis-coctum, which litterally means “cooked twice”: effectively, two teams are gaining an advantage while damaging a third (or a fourth). One could even be using the expression “killing two birds with one stone”.

The Azzurri’s history in the Euro championships already bears witness to a “biscotto”. During Euro 2004, Italy had tied its first two matches against Denmark and Sweden, and was left with the obligation to beat Bulgaria on matchday 3, all the while hoping that Denmark vs. Sweden would not end in a tie (a result which would have sent both Scandinavian teams to the quarter-finals). What do you know? The match ended 2-2.

In the case of Netherlands vs. Romania, the term “biscotto” is being used because both teams would benefit from a Romanian victory: Romania would qualify to the quarter-finals as 2nd-ranked, Netherlands would simultaneously get rid of two title favorites Italy and France (which, in case you didn’t notice, could potentially play Holland again in the Semi-Finals).

That’s for the Italian etymology lesson. With that said, everyone in Italy (and in France I guess) can only hope that Netherlands will be good sports and play their last match to win (despite the fact they will undoubtedly field many reserve players).

Gazzetta tells us more about it:

MOEDLING (Austria), 14 June 2008 – And now it’s France-Italy. Rather, it’s Netherlands-Romania. Just like four years ago in Portugal, the scary shadow of a “biscotto” (an unspoken agreement) hangs over the fate of the Azzurri. And over that of their French neighbours. Michel Platini, UEFA President, will be sitting next to FIGC President Giancarlo Abete in the stands at Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. It’s a common fate.

MARCO AND FATE – Hitting the nail right on the head… What will Holland do? What will be their starting line-up? Will they give Romania the green light? Those are all valid questions. William Gaillard, UEFA spokesman, stated that “no one can impose a specific line-up on a coach.” Especially when the team has already qualified for the next round. It’s a gargantuan dilemma in other words, but Roberto Donadoni doesn’t have doubts.

I know Marco Van Basten quite well” says the Italian coach. “He is an honest, fair and competent man and these qualities are already a guarantee.” The Don trusts his friend, whom he hasn’t seen in six months except for the sad circumstances on Monday in Bern. The Azzurro coach considers the Oranje’s so-called ‘second team’ to be very interested in proving their value, both to their coach and to the first team. And he gives an example: “In the group round of Euro 2000, we had already qualified but we beat Sweden 2-0 with many ‘reserves’” (indeed, Dino Zoff made eight changes for that game).

DIFFERENCE OF OPINIONS – The opinions run high in the Dutch camp. Giving away the match? “We always play to win“, reassures Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar. This opinion is shared by Arjen Robben, one of the Oranje’s stars against France: “It will be a game where we can have fun, but we are playing to win; I always play to win.” Ruud van Nistelrooy has a different opinion and honestly admits: “These matches are tackled differently when you don’t have to worry about qualifying.”

Euro 2008: Netherlands 3-0 Italy – Azzurri Crushed in their Tournament Opener, Or: Cannavaro Where Art Thou?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Netherlands 3-0 Italy. The Azzurri’s adventure at Euro 2008 could not have started worse. 3 goals like the 3 words which can be used to describe today’s match: offside, counter-attack, and defense (or lack thereof).

Why offside? The pivotal point of the match (Italy’s poor performance aside) was without question the controversial non-call on Ruud van Nistelrooy’s opening offside goal. Why counter-attack? The Dutch were absolutely lethal at scoring, right after their opponents had failed to do so: two out of the three goals were on a counter. Why defense? The goals conceded by Buffon today (offside excepted) can in large part be blamed on the Azzurri defense, a defense which at its first test without iconic leader Fabio Cannavaro, completely fell apart under the Oranje pressure.

At the end of the day, today’s crushing 3-0 defeat hangs like a big sword of Damocles directly over Roberto Donadoni’s head. The next match vs. Romania will be “do or die” for Italy. And yes, it’s only match 2 of the tournament.


Tactically, there were two big question marks in Donadoni’s match eve: who to pick for his midfield and who to pick for the defense. Regarding the former, the Don stayed faithful to his pro-AC Milan convictions and decided to opt for Massimo Ambrosini (over Giallorossi Alberto Aquilani/Daniele De Rossi). Ambro had been on fire during training lately and with the added contribution of Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, would form a defensive dam in the center designed to contain the creativity & verve of the Oranje’s playmaking trio (Van der Vaart, Sneijder, and Kuyt). Regarding the defense, the blow inflicted by Fabio Cannavaro’s injury still wasn’t fully digested, but common sense seemed to point out towards Andrea Barzagli‘s and Marco Materazzi‘s confirmation (hoping that Matrix would strike a line through his mediocre 2007-08 campaign with Inter, and return to his WC2006 goal-scoring form).

At least that was the plan.

Things started off rather well for the Azzurri, who only took 3 minutes into the game to send a clear message to van der Sar & colleagues: we’re out here, we’re hungry. Antonio Di Natale got rid of his marker on the right wing and was in a good position to provide danger, but his cross towards Luca Toni was too deep and ran harmlessly across goal. 10 minutes later, LucaBomber put his 1m94 to work and got his noggin to a Rino Gattuso cross. Wide. If only Toni had seen Di Natale’s run in the middle, completely unmarked…

That, essentially was the last bit of evidence that Italy was “alive” in the first half. The ensuing half-hour until the break was  all to the benefit of Marco Van Basten’s men, able at exploiting a greater ball possession and the speed & technique of their wing players. In minute 18, a through ball by Kuyt for Van Nistelrooy found the Real Madrid man in the clear, but the presence of Buffon destabilized the Dutch striker just enough to send him to the side and mistime his cross. Had he tumbled to the ground (Buffon had a slight touch rushing out), the Dutch would have had serious claims to a penalty. 5 minute later, RVN was into the heart of the action again, as he narrowly missed connecting with a Wesley Sneijder free-kick (Materazzi was key in deflecting the ball just enough). Italy were under pressure.

Too much pressure. In minute 26, the goal: free-kick from the left to the far post, Buffon punched the ball (falling over Panucci in the process) and the ball arrived to Van Bronckhorst. The ex-Barcelona wing-back went for the half-volley, and found Ruud Van Nistelrooy comfortably placed at the second post to deflect the ball in. The only problem? RVN was a good 2-3 yards offside and no, Panucci wasn’t keeping him on (not by lying motionless a good 6 yards out of the field). Regardless, 1-0 Netherlands.

5 minute later, another turning point of the match: a corner-kick by Pirlo found a deflection in the box, and was saved off the line by Van Bronckhorst. The Dutch defender was having quite a day today: assist provider, goal saver and (as we will see later), also goalscorer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the counter: Holland in possession and out to the opposite side, Van Bronckhorst (him again) provided a long cross towards Kuyt (left to right), and the Liverpool striker’s re-directed header turned into a great assist for Wesley Sneijder (completely forgotten by the center-back pair). The birthday boy (turning 24 today) offered himself the perfect gift, and got his foot on the Oranje’s second goal of the game. 2-0 Netherlands, the Azzurri’s morale in tatters. 2-0 could even have become 3-0 before the half ended, had Gigi Buffon’s miraculous foot save on RVN (through on goal once again, forgotten by Materazzi) not kept today’s Azzurri semi-hopes alive.

Outplayed and outscored (albeit with some rather bad luck on the first goal), some drastic changes were necessary at the break for the Azzurri to turn this one around. Instead, Roberto Donadoni confirmed his 11-man line and operated the first substitution only 9 minutes into the half. A rather lost Marco Materazzi left his place to Fabio Grosso, thus shifting Zambrotta to the right side and moving Christian Panucci to the center. A change which brought back some stability in the Azzurri back-line, if only for a short while. However what was really lacking in the Azzurri today (unbelievable as it may seem) was some fighting spirit, an inherent desire to say “we will not stand by this scoreline”. Zambrotta’s blast wide in the 53rd (after a lovely dribble on Kuyt) and Toni’s weak effort in the 60th were signs some new life had to be injected into the Azzurri attack.

Trying to find just that, Donadoni inserted Alessandro Del Piero (on for Di Natale) and then later Antonio Cassano (on for Camoranesi). The Juve captain immediately got into the match, dribbling, shooting, obtaining fouls. His good effort in minute 66 was saved by Van der Sar, then Cassano gave his contribution by looping a perfect ball for Luca Toni just five minutes later, setting up the Bayern giant completely in the clear. Incredibly, LucaBomber failed the impossible and made a mess of his shot (over and wide). It seemed as though Italy were “back in it”, if not by the scoreline at least mentally. Edwin van der Sar had to summon his best goalkeeping talents to keep a Fabio Grosso 6-yard finish and a 25m Andrea Pirlo free-kick out of his goal.

The previous 10 minutes were only a glimpse though, because the Dutch midfield was just having a field day on the other end, cutting through the Azzurri defense like butter. Stemming from Pirlo’s parried free-kick, the Dutch counter-attack proved once again lethal for Gigi Buffon: the Italian nº1 did what he could on Kuyt’s mid-range effort, but on the ensuing cross Giovanni van Bronckhorst was left all alone (again) by the back-line, and comfortably added insult to injury to the defence’s nightmarish night. 3-0 Netherlands, that’s a wrap folks!


Royal Netherlands Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond or KNVB) NETHERLANDS-ITALY
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 26’ Van Nistelrooy (N), 31’ Sneijder (N), 79’ van Bronckhorst (N)
NETHERLANDS (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar – Ooijer, Boulahrouz (77’ Heitinga), Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst – de Jong, Engelaar – Kuyt (91’ Afellay), van der Vaart, Sneijder – van Nistelrooy (70’ van Persie). (bench: Timmer, Stekelemburg, de Zeeuw, Robben, Melchiot, Bouma, de Cler, Huntelaar, Vennegoor). Coach: Marco van Basten
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Panucci, Barzagli, Materazzi (54’ Grosso), Zambrotta – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Camoranesi (75’ Cassano), Toni, Di Natale (64’ Del Piero) (bench: De Sanctis, Amelia, Chiellini, Gamberini, De Rossi, Perrotta, Aquilani, Quagliarella, Borriello). Coach: Roberto Donadoni.


Netherlands 3 – 0 Italy Euro 2008 – MyVideo

Azzurri vs. Oranje… Italy’s Euro 2008 Debut is Near

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Exactly 12 hours as I am writing these words people: at 20:45 Central European Time, current World Cup champions Italy will finally enter the stage of Euro 2008. Sharing the arena with them will be none other than one that the Netherlands of Marco Van Basten, one of Italian coach Roberto Donadoni’s old pals from the late 80′s AC Milan glory days.

Group C is as everyone knows, the “Group of Death”, and certainly fate could have picked an easier adversary for the Azzurri to start things up. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” as they say but whether you believe in God or not, certainly history has shown that when faced with strong opposition, the Azzurri have always brought out the best in them. Didn’t Enzo Bearzot’s 1982 team end up with Brazil and Argentina in the second group stage, beating them both to clear a path to the semi-finals and later claim glory, as Italy added a third star above their FIGC logo? Weren’t Arrigo Sacchi’s 1994 boys almost faced with elimination, as they battled it out of a group stage against modest opposition, only to magically redeem themselves in the playoffs when the adversaries really got tough, and losing only to penalties in the unlucky final we all have conveniently put aside in our memories? Finally, didn’t Marcello Lippi’s 2006 group stage also contain some very “tough nuts to crack” that the Azzurri handled brilliantly, with the final glorious outcome we all remember? It is now Roberto Donadoni’s turn…

Trust me my friends, when it comes to the Italian national team, the tougher the opponent the better. Perhaps there is something in our DNA that amplifies our performance whenever we are faced with a difficult challenge. Perhaps Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio needed to have that little bit of “extra stimulation”, before they finally turned the engine on and led their team to goalscoring bliss. Perhaps destiny has it written somewhere that the Azzurri don’t like easy matches, that real glory may only be achieved by overcoming difficult odds and that no victory is deserved unless you have to sweat for it. The steeper the hill the higher the effort… but the greater the satisfaction.

And perhaps in a week’s time I will be eating these very words, as Italy come out crashing out of Euro 2008, last in their group without having won a single game or scored a single goal. Perhaps.

But I doubt it… :) Let’s look at the match preview.


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio

I could write pages and pages about the Azzurri’s pre-match preparation, tactics, and so forth. Someone has done it already, and it’s quality stuff. Read all of RomaChris’s work here, and expect him to have a thorough match preview up very soon.

Alternatively (less quality but plenty of useful info), you may read Gazzetta‘s English preview here.


Royal Netherlands Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond or KNVB)

Despite Ryan Babel‘s Euro adventure ended without even having started, and that Arjen Robben will most likely have to skip Monday’s match vs. Italy, Netherlands coach Marco Van Basten is not worried. At least not about that.

Donadoni’s a friendsaid Van Basten after Holland’s latest practice session on Sunday, “we have played many games together, first football games and now golf, so I know for a fact that he’s a fighter. He’s got very strong character, and is the type of person that always wanst to win. If he succeeds at making his team play just the way he wants it, it will be very tough for us.” “Italy” added the Oranje coach, “have fantastic experience, played a great qualifying group, and managed to keep the same core group of players that won the World Cup two years ago. We are approaching our match with them with the utmost respect. We believe we will make a good start, but it will not be easy.”

Regarding Robben’s injury, Van Basten said that Holland have often had to play without the Real Madrid’s winger during the qualifying campaign (just like many other players), and always performed well. It must said however, that despite their prestigious pedigree Holland have failed to impress during the road to Euro 2008. Their qualifying campaign saw them arrive behind group leaders Romania by 3 points, and preceding Bulgaria by a hairbreadth. The attacking power of the Oranje has historically always been impressive, but the defense’s a whole other matter, as indicated by the recent friendly matches vs. Denmark and Wales.

Formation-wise, it is likely Van Basten will utilize his trademarked & tested 4-2-3-1 formation: van der Sar in the net, behind a defense composed by (from right to left) Oojier, Heitinga, Mathijsen, and van Bronckhorst. The defensive midfield pair should be de Jong and Engelaar, supporting an offensive line composed of Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Kuyt. Up front, the goalscoring abilities of Ruud van Nistelrooy should give Buffon & friends plenty to think about.

Netherlands vs. Italy, kick-off time 20:45 CET.
As Chris says, “In Donadoni We Trust”.