Sunday September 6 2020
Italy's heroic stand in Holland

Mention the Netherlands and the Amsterdam Arena, Italy fans like Richard Hall will immediately drift back to the epic Euro 2000 semi-final.

Luigi Di Biagio gestured at the referee, he was complaining that Edwin van de Saar was not on his line and was instead trying to play mind games. You could not blame him for being agitated by the situation; after all, he was showing incredible courage. Only two years before, his penalty miss against France had caused heartbreak, as Italy exited the World Cup on penalties. Now, in the semi-finals of Euro 2000, he had volunteered to take the Azzurri’s first penalty and quite frankly, he could have done without the goalkeeper’s antics. Still, it was only too soon before the referee blew the whistle and he began his run up.

At this time, perhaps only England hated penalty shoot-outs as much as Italy. The Azzurri had exited Italia 90 like this, as Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena will never forget. They had also failed in the World Cup Final in the USA, Franco Baresi’s miss being overshadowed by ‘that’ Roberto Baggio moment. Finally, in France they lost to the hosts with Demetrio Albertini and Di Biagio failing to convert. Now, on June 29, a warm evening in the Amsterdam Arena, they found themselves here again. Surely confidence was low?

Ironically, it was not. The feeling from those watching on was that the Dutch hearts were sinking fast, knowing what had happened in the previous 120 minutes of dramatic football. The fact that the Azzurri had even got to the penalty shootout was something of a miracle. They had been reduced to 10 men with only just half an hour played, thanks to two bookable offences Gianluca Zambrotta will not remember with any pride. Dino Zoff had to adjust, he had to go ‘old school’ on Holland.

The defensive tactics employed were admirable. Alessandro Nesta was imperious and Fabio Cannavaro alongside him helped the pair pull off one of the best defensive displays in any Euros to date. The Dutch had possession, the Italians let them have it, but their velvet passing was simply kicked away from dangerous areas by Italy’s hard leather boot. They were simply snuffing out the channels and Holland had nowhere to go, however with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert in the side, the Dutch were always going to get chances.

So how on earth, when Di Biagio stepped up, could Italy have been confident? Well, that is because during the game they had weathered Bergkamp hitting the post, but then bizarrely they missed two spot kicks. First, Frank de Boer had his saved by Francesco Toldo and then Kluivert managed to hit the post with his. This was not just a battle of two philosophies; this was Italy’s Rourke’s Drift. Again and again the swarms of Orange attacked, every time they were repulsed.

Toldo wasn’t even supposed to be the Euro 2000 goalkeeper for Italy. He had to step in after Gianluigi Buffon’s injury, but ended up becoming their hero of the tournament.

There was no point in taking Frank Rijkaard’s men on in an open game; this for Zoff's side was a war of attrition. Ever since they went to 10 men, it became obvious to them that they had no option but to get this to a penalty shootout. Toldo was key in this, as he had already performed heroics, but he was in sublime form, even the goal posts felt like they were Azzurri as they saved him again from Bergkamp.

Italy were now playing in a 4-4-1 with Filippo Inzaghi upfront and Alessandro Del Piero taking up an odd position on the right wing. In truth, Italy were playing with an eight-man defence, but it was working and the Dutch were getting frustrated. Nesta was now producing the best international performance of his career and snuffing Kluivert out of the game, Italy were doing their job well.

They could even have won the game at the 90th minute, as the underrated Marco Delvecchio had come on for Inzaghi and just shot wide of the Dutch ‘keeper. Extra time played out in the same manner, only Holland had fewer chances and looked increasingly distraught. That is why when the whistle blew, Italy were confident. They were going to penalties against a side that had already failed twice from the spot during regular time.  

The finish was confident and accurate, rifled into the top left. Van de Saar went the right way, but had no chance, Di Biagio punched the air as France ‘98 left his body like a spirit leaving for Heaven. There were no excuses this time. Frank de Boer was next, saved, twice in one match. Gianluca Pessotto, not your normal penalty taker, scores. Jaap Stam missed the target entirely and Italy were realising the curse was nearly vanquished.

Francesco Totti’s panenka was a sign of Italy’s confidence, preceded by his infamous quote ‘mo je faccio er cucchiaio’ (now watch me chip it), even if Kluivert atoned for his earlier miss just after. Now was the chance, Paolo Maldini stepped up. Missed. Maybe the curse wasn’t gone yet?

Paul Bosvelt walked up looking like a man who had already succumbed to his fate. Not even nervous, just wholly defeated. The steps forward were laboured, the shot tame, and even when Toldo saved it, he had a look that said ‘I knew that was going to happen.’

For Italy, elation, hysteria, emotion and optimism, the curse was broken. There is another article I am sure that delves into the Final, that eventually brought heartbreak for Italy, however, this shoot-out was necessary and important. Mentally, it built them, fast forward to 2006 in Berlin and remember Fabio Grosso’s emotional celebration? That started in Amsterdam.

Have your say...
Toldo was epic throughout Euro 2000. Possibly the best ever performance by an Azzurri GK at a major international least in my memory & that's going back to the 78 world cup in Argentina.
on the 14th September, 2020 at 1:27pm
Italy schooled the Dutch today.. thoroughly..

So you naysayers - STFU

Bravo L'Italia!!!!
on the 7th September, 2020 at 9:01pm
Italy with 4 player above the age of 30 in the starting line up against the Dutch.
De ligt is a starter with the age of 20 and romagnoli can't even break through. Not to mention Rugani, Caldara, Mancini and Bastoni
Italy are mistreating their own youths
on the 7th September, 2020 at 6:12pm
I was at the final. it was the biggest heartbreak. all the Italian fans stormed out of the stadium so annoyed. I thought that Toldo could have got his hand to one of the goals. I was behind the goal that conceded the winning goal. My last memory of that final was that the Dutch hated Italy and wanted the French to win so much. One young lady wouldn't serve me a drink in the stadium because I was wearing a Italy shirt. I was sitting with the neutrals and many times almost ended in a fight.
on the 7th September, 2020 at 5:54pm
Bonucci needs to go there a better underrated talents in seria A to play, chiesa should be a 2nd starter. Go back to 3 5 2 conte formation we have the best midfield if we play them right. As for defense we are also great. Chiellini better as leader in defense as for top we need to go to the more underrated players as petagna or gabbiadini.
on the 7th September, 2020 at 4:38pm
on the 7th September, 2020 at 4:32pm
The final was heartbreaking, i think the worst defeat ever for italy baring the 94 world cup final. Del piero should have scored at least one of his great chances. Also delvecchio subsituation cost us in terms of time added on. The semi final was amazing but I would have rather lost with holland than how we lost the final. We missed buffon and vieri in this tournament both due to injury also. I feel we are jinxed in the euros.
on the 7th September, 2020 at 12:04pm
Bittersweet memories (a bit like 2012). Fantastic team guided by Zoff. Unbeaten in the group and beat BOTH home nations only to lose to a lucky, lucky France. Italy have never had much luck in the Euros but 2000 hurt the most. I can remember watching with my brother who stormed out of the family home at one all and sat staring at a black TV screen back at his place, fully realising it was over. He eventually switched on the TV to confirm the inevitable. It really hurts to be an Azzurri fan!
on the 6th September, 2020 at 9:23pm
I was super young but remember Euro 2000 and how stacked Italy used to be, especially up top. Today we lack clinical finishers up front as Belotti, Insigne or whomever else plays usually misses sitters and just doesn't get the job done. If Italy approaches the game like they did vs Bosnia than Holland will smash us 4-1 or 4-0. I don't understand why we cannot play a trident attack with Immobile, Cheisa and Sensi. For me Sensi plays like Iniesta when in good form. He would be added passing depth.
on the 6th September, 2020 at 9:23pm
Excellent article, Mr. Hall!! It brought me back to summer, July 2000. What an epic, epic game that was, an incredible display of defensive strength shown by the azzurri. I remember watchIng the game almost literally by covering my face and looking through my fingers. That was a scary strong Dutch team but Italy found a way to come through. I agree with you, that shootout win gave them confidence to go on and win an even more important shootout in 2006. Forza Azzurri sempre!
on the 6th September, 2020 at 6:40pm
Oh the horror every time i see a replay of Wiltord's goal from behind. It was right next to Toldo's feet, why oh why did the imperious keeper try to save it with his hands. Not mich more I can add to the article than to say the technique and skill in the defending was always glossed over by the haters. There is a big difference watching Cannavaro Nesta and Maldini going about their business, sumptuous ball winning where necessary, tactical foul where necessary, bicycle kicks in the box. Lucidity
on the 6th September, 2020 at 1:20pm
undeservedly lost to France in the final. That Trezeguet goal always reminds me of 2006 as well though when Italy really did finally break what seemed like a curse. 8 out of the 11 team of the Tournament played in serie a that year! TPL + La Liga were starting to grow but most of Europe's, not to mention South America's elite players were still in serie a. That was a real good Italy team, in transition a bit after the Baggio's + just before the Pirlo's, Gattuso's but still, good.
on the 6th September, 2020 at 8:46am
I'd been watching Italy since 1990 so I knew all about them and penalties! I can still remember the English commentators moaning on + on 'that the dark days of football were back' It would've been heroic if England had managed to pull it off though. I felt for Holland cause I know how bad it feels but some of their pens were comical. Italy's mental strength beat them, along with luck, an amazing GK + defence + Holland's own self-cursed mentality! Italy must have used up all their luck as they
on the 6th September, 2020 at 8:35am
What a game it was! I was so young back then but still remember the emotion. Winning on penalties and qualifying when down to 9 men against the hosts after they missed two penalties in the 90 minutes. What a match! It's just a shame about the final and that damned Trezeguet goal.
on the 6th September, 2020 at 6:41am
if the ITALY of today play like they did against BOSNIA, they'll be smacked by HOLLAND 3-0 on monday. but i remember exactly where i was watching this euro 2000 pk shootout. at an irish pub...and yes they eraced the curse til 2016 v GERMANY which they should of won if not for 2 idiots (Zaza/Pelle). but wow ...20 years ago !!!!?
on the 6th September, 2020 at 1:34am

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