It’s June 29 2000. Tony Blair is the UK’s Prime Minister, Bill Clinton is US President and most importantly, Kylie Minogue Spinning Around is about the top the UK Singles Chart
There’s also the small matter of a European Championship semi final to contend with Italy taking on co-hosts and pre-tournament favourites, the Netherlands. A place in the final against France awaits the victors and a wealth of both attacking and defensive talent is on display.
Italy, lined up in a typically conservative formation, can boast one of the best defensive lines in the world, with their back five of: Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Mark Iuliano and Paolo Maldini enough to give any forward nightmares.
However, if anyone can penetrate this stoic resistance it’s the Netherlands whose front four of: Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp
Six of these goals had come against Yugoslavia in the quarter finals, with Kluivert bagging a hat trick in an incredible 6-1 win.
Well…Italy had other ideas, but it was certainly not plain sailing.
The Netherlands fired a few warning shots early in the first half to unsettled Dino Zoff’s side. After only three minutes Bergkamp prodded the ball through to Phillip Cocu who looped his shot just over, before the Arsenal striker then created his own opportunity, working his way into space and firing an effort across goal that hammered into the post.
The Netherland’s onslaught continue thereafter and Italy’s hopes took an absolute hammer blow during a dramatic four minutes. First, Zambrotta was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence, forcing Zoff to rejig his formation. Moments later, Nesta was caught pulling Kluivert’s shirt inside the penalty box and German referee Markus Merk had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
It was Frank de Boer versus Francesco Toldo from 12-yards. De Boer has already scored one penalty in the competition but on this occasion the Italy stopper came out on top, making a stupendous save down low to this left.
Toldo would remarkably be called on again to keep out a Netherlands penalty after Iuliano was penalised for a clumsy challenge on Edgar Davids in the 61st minute. This time though Kluivert did his job for him by rolling the spot kick against the post – much to the disbelief of the wall of orange shirts camped out behind the goal.
The Netherlands continued to press as Italy retreated into a deeper and deeper defensive block.
The Oranje’s record was abysmal going into the shootout; they had been eliminated on spot kicks during three of their last four major tournament appearances.
Italy stepped up first with Luigi Di Baggio smashing it into the top corner to extinguish the demons of his quarter finals miss from 12-yards during the 1998 World Cup quarter finals.
De Boer could not make amends for his miscue earlier in the game though as his tame effort was easily kept out. The opening two attempts set the tone for the shootout with Italy going on to score their next two spot kicks through Gianluca Pessotto and a youthful Francesco Totti, while the Netherlands could only convert one of theirs.
Maldini’s miss gave Paul Bosvelt a chance to keep his side in the competition but yet again Toldo pulled out a fine save to send Italy through to the final.
It was a remarkable show of defensive grit and determination from Zoff’s side, though they would falter at the final hurdle with Les Bleus lifting the trophy thanks to a golden goal scored by David Trezeguet.
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