Once again, the stands were awash with orange. Some 35,000 Dutch fans had flocked to the PSV Eindhoven stadium, big enough to accommodate the entire San Marino population. Not a single Sanmarinese fan had ventured the 1300km journey northwards to watch their team taking on mighty Holland, the runaway leaders of Euro 2012 qualifying group E.
In what, on paper, must have been one of the most unequal of battles in football history, Oranje turned out for the first time as FIFA's top-ranked nation, facing the minnows who are jointly bottom of the pile. Naturally, expectations among the sell-out crowd were high, boosted by players’ promises of a glorious goal glut.
“We’ve come all the way from Cologne, Germany, to see plenty of goals,” Matthijs Blum said an hour before kick-off. "Klaas Jan Huntelaar might break Johan Cruyff’s record, he added.” The Schalke 04 striker on form needed just four more goals to topple Holland’s biggest football legend as the country’s topscorer in international qualification matches. “And Huntelaar might just do it tonight, in a single match,” Matthijs hoped.
The Dutch-born Oranje fan had taken his son Cedric with him to witness this momentous occasion. “And to immerse him in a key aspect of Dutch culture, of course.” Meanwhile, Cedric happily dipped his French fries in mayonnaise as he followed the procession of bizarre orange outfits with amusement.
Once inside, the fans found inflatable crowns on their seats, courtesy of the Royal Dutch Football Association. The headwear was meant to add to the party atmosphere, already enhanced by dozens of decibels pumping a curious cocktail of house and schlager music. As the crowd waltzed with their hands, the players started their ritual dance on the pitch.
As expected, Holland got off to a furious start against San Marino, creating a flurry of chances before Robin van Persie opened the score in the sixth minute.
Another six minutes later, Wesley Sneijder fired a long-distance strike into the top corner of the net. This set the orange machine going at full speed, with defender John Heitinga heading in number three in the 17th minute. Regular as clockwork.
Long lapse in concentration
But then suddenly, the machine faltered and the scoring ground to a halt. Holland failed to capitalise on its surreal superiority despite creating dozens of solid chances. On the other side of the pitch, San Marino captain Andy Selva tested the Holland goalkeeper's concentration in the 25th minute with a long-range shot that went just wide.
“It’s hard to keep concentrated,” Mathijs Blum remarked at half-time. “Particularly when you know that your main Group E rivals, Sweden, are 1-0 down to Hungary and you’re three goals up yourself.” With Holland slowing down and so many chances wasted, his son had found the latter half of the first period “slightly boring”. And where was Huntelaar? “On the verge of off-side. He was well-marked too.”
But then, two minutes into the second half, there he was on the right flank, putting Dirk Kuyt in scoring position with a clever flick: 4-0. Minutes later, Huntelaar finally managed to put his own name on the scoresheet for number five.
A few touches of orange brilliance followed, with Mark van Bommel and Robin van Persie engaging in gallery play, the latter scoring his second after a superb Sneijder flick, and his third just minutes later.
"Ten, ten, ten," the crowd chanted, and with 20 minutes remaining, a double-digit score was still on the cards. A fresh infusion of energy came with Eljero Elia and Hedwiges Madro as substitutes for Dirk Kuyt and Mark van Bommel. And with 15 minutes playing time left, it was Huntelaar who doubled his tally with a deft little touch.
The chants became louder when Van Persie made his fourth, sliding the ball into the left corner: 9-0. And with just three minutes to go, the stadium waxed euphoric when number ten, Wesley Sneijder, netted number ten. But there was more to come, with debuting substitute Georginio Wijnaldum putting the final score at 11-0.
The fans were elated. They had just witnessed the biggest win in Holland's history. "We got what we came for, lots of goals. Great fun," Mathijs Blum summed up the general mood.
Holland boss Bert van Marwijk concurred at the press conference: "Apart from the last 15 minutes of the first half, we played near-perfect, at a very high pace, with a lot of commitment and concentration. I enjoyed 75 minutes of the game. It was a pleasure to watch."
Holland returns to Euro 2012 action on Tuesday when they face Finland, who kept their slim chances of reaching next summer's finals alive by sinking Moldova 4-1 earlier on Friday evening.
Holland 11 - San Marino 0
Goals: Robin van Persie (4x), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (2X), Wesley Sneijder (2x), Dirk Kuyt, Georginio Wijnaldum and John Heitinga
Holland starting line-up:
1-Maarten Stekelenburg; 2-Gregory van de Wiel, 3-John Heitinga; 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Erik Pieters; 6-Mark van Bommel (C); 7-Robin van Persie; 8-Kevin Strootman; 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar; 10-Wesley Sneijder; 11-Dirk Kuyt
San Marino starting line-up:
1-Aldo Junior Simoncini; 2-Fabio Vitaioli, 3-Damiano Vannucci; 4-Fabio Bollini; 5-Davide Simoncini; 6-Giacomo Benedetti; 7-Matteo Andreini; 8-Michele Cervelini; 9-Pier Filippo Mazza; 10-Andy Selva (C); 11-Matteo Vitaioli