Sneijder thrives in advanced role

Suddenly Cristiano Ronaldo does not look such a shoo-in for this year's European and world player of the year awards.

The Portugal winger is a short-odds favourites to claim both individual honours on the back of a 42-goal season with Manchester United that was provided the basis for his club's English Premier League and Champions League double.

But on the evidence presented in Monday's night demolition of world champions Italy, Ronaldo may have a serious rival in the shape of the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder, particularly if the Dutch live up to the potential they demonstrated at the Stade de Suisse.

The midfielder was the principal architect of Italy's humiliation, scoring one superb goal and playing a decisive role in the creation of the two others scored by his side in their historic 3-0 win. Roberto Donadoni's ageing line-up were torn apart by a Dutch side that passed and moved at exhilarating pace.

Marco van Basten appears to have made it his personal mission to update the Total Football textbook for the 21st century and few would dispute the Dutch coach's assertion that more of the same could carry his squad to glory in this tournament.

Like Ronaldo, Sneijder came into the tournament on the back of a superb, title-winning season for his club, Real Madrid, where he mostly operates in the slipstream of his international team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy.

In the national side, his creative contribution has sometimes been limited by his being used as a holding player. But with Nigel de Jong and Orlando Engelaar now taking the midfield defensive responsibilities in van Basten's 4-2-3-1 formation, Sneijder was deployed on Monday in an advanced position on the left and handed a licence to roam.

Man-of-the-match
The results, from an Italian point of view, were devastating. Beautifully balanced, Sneijder is comfortable on either foot, although it is his left boot that has the slight edge in terms of raw power, a fact he demonstrated with the ferocious shot that van Nistelrooy turned in for the Dutch opener.

His eye for goal was then displayed as he used his right to smash a bouncing ball past Gianluigi Buffon for the second, and the Dutch really should have been three up by half-time after Sneijder's perfectly angled pass for van Nistelrooy left his club-mate with only the Italian goalkeeper to beat.

Another incisive pass sliced Italy's defences apart in the build-up to Giovanni van Bronckhorst's third goal, ending any doubt about the destiny of the man-of-the-match award.

Like van Basten, Sneijder, who celebrated his 24th birthday in remarkable style on Monday, is refusing to get carried away with the euphoria created by Holland's first win over Italy in 30 years. But he also sees no reason why this generation of Dutch players should not aim to emulate the van Basten-inspired squad that lifted the trophy in Germany 20 years ago.

It was a long time since the Netherlands beat Italy so it was a good job, but we do not have time to celebrate
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder remains sanguine following his team's first-up EURO win over Italy

"It was a great result and the fans may celebrate but we still have nothing," the midfielder said. "Our goal is still to reach and win the final, and therefore we need to stay calm. . We have an important game against France on Friday and we have to be ready for them. If we lose to them we are back where we started."

The Dutch are expected to be without Arjen Robben again for the clash with the French but Robin van Persie, a substitute against the Italians, will come into contention for a starting place having completed his recovery from a thigh strain.

Accomodating van Persie, however, would mean redeploying Sneijder and on the back of what the Real star did on Monday night, van Basten is unlikely to be tempted by that option.