Azzurri in disbelief

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

BERNE, Switzerland -- It seems appropriate that someone in the Group of Death would need a resurrection.

No one thought that it would be Italy.

A marvelous Netherlands team buried the world champs 3-0 last night. It's a scoreline that the Azzurri rarely sees.

This was the first marquee matchup in Euro 2008.

The elegant Italians were going to play a Dutch side that had several key injuries and never had been very successful against Italy. By the end of the night, though, the Dutch were making the Italians dance to their tune.

On Italy's bench, most players stared forward in stunned disbelief.

They have every reason to look haunted. The 3-0 line was the worst defeat for an Italian team in a World Cup or European championship since it lost 4-1 to Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final. Italy hadn't lost to the Dutch since the late 1970s.

If there is any consolation to the Italians, it's that the French looked just as inept, so there still is hope for them.

This wasn't supposed to happen to the Italians. Of the four teams in Group C, they looked the most prepared and the most confident.

But wearing the mantle of world champions is difficult. Every night the pitch becomes a proving ground. It's a difficult role to play.

Growing old gracefully also is difficult. On this night, the Italians looked old and not very graceful.

The Dutch looked superb. They were much quicker than the Italians, pressuring them at every turn and forcing them to play quickly. They looked like a little dog snapping at the Italian's heels at every turn.

Once it grabbed on, it wouldn't let go.

On the attack, the Dutch shredded the Italians with probing through balls that usually found Ruud van Nistelrooy and turned the slowfooted central defenders. The Italians clearly missed injured defender Fabio Cannavaro.

When van Nistelrooy wasn't giving them headaches, Wesley Sneijder and players coming up from the back like Giovanni van Bronckhorst created large openings for their teammates.

Van Nistelrooy, Sneijder and van Bronckhorst all scored. The Netherlands could have added a few more.

Van Nistelrooy's goal, the first of the game, appeared to be offside. He redirected a shot past Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon, but injured defender Christian Panucci had walked off the field, to the right of the net, before the goal.

Italian coach Roberto Donadoni wasn't going to hang the loss on the offside goal, although the Italian press will dissect the play until nothing is left.

"It's done," he said. "I won't talk about it. You saw it. Make up your own mind. The referee made a mistake but they are human. We had a chance to rectify the mistake but didn't. You can't justify an offside goal for that defeat."

Donadoni wasn't going to finger any of his players, although there was plenty of blame to go around.

"To play like that as world champions, a 3-0 loss, that kind of quality is not good," he said.

"We feel most sorry for ourselves but we also feel most sorry for our fans and all of Italy. We understand how they feel."

This loss will turn the heat up on Donadoni. He signed a two-year contract with the Italian Soccer Federation recently but it was contingent on the team doing well at this tournament.

The rumbling already was beginning after the game as he faced questions about his lineup. "I don't have any second thoughts," he said. "I can't cry over it. We need to go back and work on things and not make the mistakes we made."

Sneijder, who suggested early in the tournament that the Italians should fear the Dutch, wasn't gloating.

"We just played very well. We played like a team," Sneijder said.

"Usually you can't score one goal against Italy and tonight we got three."

The night belonged to the Oranje, while the Azzurri never looked as blue.


Videos

Photos