And that was number nine. With clinical consistency, Holland clinched yet another win in Euro 2012 qualifying group E, their ninth in a row, beating Moldova 1-0 in Rotterdam on Friday.
Just 1-0? Yes, what could have been a rugby score, even before half time, ended with the narrowest of margins and a chorus of whistles from the stands. Even the Holland players were disappointed.
Expectations had been high, inflated perhaps, with pundits predicting a “stroll in the park”, “5-0 at least” and some punters betting on more. Perhaps even a new record to trump Holland’s 11-0 rout of poor San Marino last month?
“That’s what my ten and twelve-year-old boys dreamt of last night: twelve goals,” said Elsa with a smile, as she dried her hair with a handkerchief. “In fact, they didn’t sleep a wink, that’s how excited they were.” Elsa and her sons came all the way from Nijmegen in a 20-strong party, braving the foul autumn weather and the resulting congestion on the motorway.
They saw a stormy opening by the men in orange, with an offside goal on just two minutes promising yet another high score. As expected, the Dutch dominated, slicing through Moldova’s double defence line with fast precision passes. A flurry of solid chances followed, but every effort was denied either by the aluminium or by the extraordinary reflexes of the only Moldovan who could match the superior Dutch: goalkeeper Stanislav Namaşco.
But even Namaşco was unable to prevent the opening goal on 39 minutes when Dirk Kuyt picked out Huntelaar just outside the box to fire the ball into the corner of the net.
After the break and another downpour, the cat-and-mouse game between the 2010 World Cup runners up and the number 122 on FIFA’s World Rankings continued on the soggy pitch, with Robin van Persie hitting the crossbar once more and Moldova’s stalwart hero denying the Dutch their killer second goal.
Aimed too high
And so, the stroll in the park became a struggle in the dark, with Elsa’s two boys desperately trying to stay awake. Holland’s narrow lead kept Moldova’s hopes alive and those of their 70-odd fans in the stands – a record number for an away match. With five minutes left, Moldova could have produced the equaliser but the powerless header was aimed too high.
All in all, both sides got what they wanted. Moldova had not been mauled and had showed the “decency and discipline” which their coach, Gabi Balint, had demanded of them. “I’m happy with the result," Balint told the press. "The Dutch play at a very high level and there's a vast difference between them and us. I could see our players got nervous when they crossed the midfield line.”
For their part, Holland got the three points they needed to become one of the four top seeds in the draw for next year’s European Championship finals in Ukraine and Poland. That gives them a number of privileges, including the right to play the first three group matches of the finals in the same venue.
To mark this achievement, there were fireworks in the stadium right after the final whistle and there was champagne for the players. But the Dutch left the bottles untouched, disappointed as they were over the lack of fireworks on the pitch.
Holland starting line-up:
1-Michel Vorm; 2-Gregory van de Wiel, 3-Jeffrey Bruma; 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Erik Pieters; 6-Mark van Bommel (C); 7-Robin van Persie; 8-Kevin Strootman; 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar; 10-Rafael van der Vaart; 11-Dirk Kuyt
Moldova starting line-up:
1- Stanislav Namaşco, 2 - Igor Armaș, 3 - Victor Golovatenco, 13 - Simion Bulgaru, 5 - Alexandru Epureanu, 6 - Petru Racu, 7 - Stanislav Ivanov, 8 - Evgheni Cebotaru, 9 - Anatol Cheptine, 16 - Alexandru Suvorov, 10 - Serghei Alexeev