Despite only conceding one goal in qualification and keeping clean sheets in their first seven qualifiers, Serbia & Montenegro were considered to be the weakest team in group C. Defensively, they didn’t look entirely willing to sit down and take the expected beating that was due their way from the Dutch team. In all fairness the first half was a relatively easy display of how to win football matches from the Dutch and, in particular, the goal scorer Arjen Robben who neatly tucked away the 17th minute goal.
Whereas in the first half the Serbs looked relatively subdued going forward, they livened up in the last five minutes before the break and for most of the second half but Robben continued to cause problems for them as he broke forward with alarming ease and regularity.
Perhaps the highlight of the second half, though, came when Serbian Koroman, who was probably one of their most forward thinking players indicated to the referee that a yellow card should be played for a hard tackle got exactly what he wanted. Unfortunately for him, it came at his expense as he was booked for attempting to influence the referee’s decision.
Despite match statistics showing that the Serbs failed to have a single shot on goal, they were more threatening in the second half and the one goal cushion looked like it may not have been enough as the Serbs continued to boss the midfield for patches of the game. Robben was just too much for the underdogs to handle, though, as he continued to make his way towards goal and looked like the only Dutch player likely to score.
Despite some negative play and unnerving moments in the second half, though, Holland managed to hold on for their 1-0 victory but the display was far from convincing and was definitely not the total football we have come to expect from the Dutch in previous championships.
If Serbia & Montenegro had started the first half in the same fashion as they played the latter half then they could have caused even more problems for Van Basten’s men but it simply wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Robben was the undisputed star man of the match and, on a positive note, we got the 1-0 score line spot on although we had suggested that Van Nistelrooy would be the scorer. Before being substituted in the 69th minute he had a fairly uneventful match in Holland’s winning opener.