BERN, Switzerland —“Spremuta D’Orange” read a sign hanging at one end of the intimate Stade de Suisse, which translates roughly to “freshly squeezed orange juice.”
Right idea, wrong color.
The aged Azzurri got splattered at the European Championship, not the Oranje.
On a night when Orange Crush ruled, the Netherlands defeated Italy for the first time since the 1978 World Cup, a stunning result in a sport dominated by the traditional powers. Ruud van Nistelrooy and birthday boy Wesley Sneijder scored in the first half and Giovanni van Bronckhorst added a late goal in a rousing 3-0 victory Monday night.
“It was one of the ugliest games in the last 12 years,” was Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s mea culpa. “In the name of the entire team, I think I have to apologize to all the Italian fans.”
Never before had the Azzurri lost by three goals in the Euros. Italy hadn’t been wiped out by three goals since a 3-0 defeat to Sweden in a Euro qualifier in 1983.
And the Dutch did it with flair, creating electric cross-field passes and pulsating through balls.
“It was a historic game,” said Netherlands coach Marco van Basten, quite familiar with Italian soccer from his days starring for AC Milan.
It’s tough to be the king.
Italy rolled into the beautiful Swiss capital, where snow is still visible in the outlying mountains, confident of a quick start. After all, the Azzurri are the world champions. They based their training camp over in Austria, even though their first-round matches are in Switzerland, planning a short commute to the final in Vienna.
Nine of Italy’s 11 starters were 30 years old and up, and rather than provide wisdom, players resembled overcooked pasta. Fabio Cannavaro, the injured captain, was sorely missed.
Two years ago in Germany was a time of “vino e rose,” when Italy allowed two goals in seven matches—one a penalty kick, the other an own-goal—and returned home with a fourth World Cup title, erasing memories of the latest match-fixing scandal to mar Serie A.
This tournament might see a quick arrivederci. The Italians are grouped with the Dutch, France and Romania in what appears to be the most difficult group.
“The game started out badly and ended even worse,” Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. “We were naive on the counterattacks.”
They only had months to prepare, and the “tifosi”—their virulently passionate fans—will be crying for blood in the next few days.
Thousands of Dutch fans had filled the town center and stadium in orange shirts, orange pants, orange overalls, orange wigs—well, you get the picture. Prince Willem-Alexander was more tastefully attired in a suit, although he did have an orange tie.
They sang over and over to “The Entertainer,” the Scott Joplin rag popularized in the 1973 move “The Sting.”
And on this night, they entertained.
So many times, the Dutch have been denied and left tournaments in embarrassment. And it’s awfully hard to walk away anonymously when you’re dressed in orange.
There was the 1974 World Cup final, when Johan Neeskens scored the first goal but West Germany won 2-1. When the Dutch reached the final again four years later, Dick Nanninga scored a tying goal in the 83rd minute against Argentina, only to see the host win in extra time.
There’s just one major title in the national team’s history, the 1988 European Championship, when Van Basten scored a tournament-high five goals, including a spectacular volley against the Soviet Union in the final.
Van Basten now is trying to become the first person to win European titles as a coach and a player, and the opener couldn’t have gone better for the lame-duck coach, who already has agreed to switch to Ajax Amsterdam next season.
The Netherlands’ lead-up to the tournament was shaky. Clarence Seedorf refused to participate in one of those disagreements that always seems to disrupt the Dutch, apparently not happy with the reserve role Van Basten envisioned. Ryan Babel and Arjen Robben got hurt.
They had lost six times and tied twice against Italy since that World Cup win in Buenos Aires.
Maybe this year will be different, both for Amsterdam and Rome.
“It’s only the very first step. We have to see if we are able to repeat such a game against France and against Romania,” Van Basten cautioned.
But, hey, give the Dutch their due. Nights like this don’t happen often.
“We can have nice dreams,” he said.