France held as Italy crash
There was disappointment all round for France and Italy as they opened their Group C bids. The world champions went down 3-0 to the Netherlands, while the side they beat in Berlin two years ago could only chalk up a goalless draw with Romania.
France 0-0 Romania
One single shot on target in 90 minutes tells the story of this largely uninspired encounter. Static up front and lacking spark, the French paid for their inhibitions against a well-organised Romania side. Displaying their technical superiority from the off, Les Bleus looked to be full of invention. But they soon ran out of ideas against the more aggressive Romanians, who were happy to hit on the counter and try their luck from distance. The only positive point the French can take from their unremarkable first outing is that they also kicked off an ultimately impressive run at Germany 2006 with a 0-0 draw, that time against Switzerland.
Netherlands 3-0 Italy
Goals: Ruud van Nistelrooy 27, Wesley Sneijder 32, Giovanni van Bronckhorst 79
Undone by an unusually weak back line, the world champions quickly found themselves on the back foot against an enterprising Netherlands side. Left completely unmarked by the Italian defence, Ruud van Nistelrooy opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark when he turned home a Wesley Sneijder shot. The Dutch doubled their lead five minutes later when Rafael Van der Vaart sparked a counter-attack that ended with Dirk Kuyt cushioning a header into the path of Sneijder and the Real Madrid man volleying home. The entrance of Alessandro del Piero halfway through the second half breathed new life into the Italians, but with Edwin van der Sar in majestic form in the Dutch goal, Roberto Donadoni's men could find no way through. With just 15 minutes remaining, Giovanni van Bronckhorst started and finished another break to put Italy out of their misery and set the seal on the biggest surprise of the tournament to date and the most entertaining match so far.
Pick of the day
Netherlands-Italy: With the injured Fabio Cannavaro looking on helplessly from the bench, the Italian defence creaked whenever the Dutch went forward. Showing an alarming lack of solidity, the central partnership of Andrea Barzagli and Marco Materazzi struggled in vain to stem the Oranje tide, leaving the Azzurri to ponder what might have been had Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini not retired and Cannavaro not picked up his untimely injury.
Quote of the day
"It's not very often that you qualify easily from a group. It's always tough and we knew this would come down to the slightest of margins, a single goal or goal average. This isn't a league anymore but a cup competition. You lose a match now and you're out."
France coach Raymond Domenech.
The numbers game
14 - In making his 141st international appearance on Monday, Lilian Thuram also became the most capped player in the history of the UEFA European Championship finals, having played in 15 matches between 1996 and 2008. In so doing he overtook his compatriot Zinedine Zidane, Czech Republic's Karel Poborsky, the Netherlands' Edwin van der Sar and Portugal's Luis Figo, all of them with 14 EURO finals appearances.
European champions Greece begin their title defence on Tuesday against the Swedes, against whom they have won two and drawn three of their last five meetings. With Otto Rehhagel sticking to his usual wait-and-see tactics, the Scandinavians will most probably be invited to take the initiative. Given the opportunity, the Greeks can certainly pack a punch, however, they averaged just over two goals a game in their 12 qualifying matches.
The day's first game in Group D sees Spain take on Russia, with the Spanish holding sway over the course of their eight previous meetings, winning four, drawing three and losing only once, a 2-1 defeat in 1971. The Russians, the only one of the 16 finalists to feature only one foreign-based player (Ivan Saenko, Nuremberg) are banking on the experience of their coach Guus Hiddink, who is appearing in his fifth major championship finals, and the confidence of their Zenit St. Petersburg contingent, recent winners of the UEFA Cup.
Facing them are one of the favourites for the EURO 2008 title, however. The Spanish are also in the best possible form, having gone unbeaten in their last 16 games, nine of them in the qualifying competition.
Have your say
Have reigning world champions Italy said goodbye to their chances of reaching the second round already?