PARIS - Agence France-Presse
A fortnight prior to EURO 2008 Holland had seen off a Ukraine side not good enough to make it to the finals in a warm-up match by three clear goals.
In true Dutch fashion that result only presaged waves of self-doubt, internal bickering and a newspaper poll showing that 48 percent of fans of the 'Oranje' would fail to make it out of the Group of Death containing world champions Italy, runners-up France and a hugely-talented, if unpredictable, Romania.
Undeterred, the rampant Dutch pulled out another 3-0 scoreline which had been beyond their fans' wildest dreams as they buried a 30-year-hoodoo against their rivals, against whom national coach Marco van Basten never managed to score or win against as a player, finishing on the losing side three times and drawing once.
In an age where the tactical talk is increasingly of the death of strikers van Basten struck a blow for northern Europe's great entertainers, turning back the clock to the days of Total Football, patented by Rinus Michels and his playing lieutenant Johan Cruyff.
The ever hard-to-please Cruyff had offered barbs beforehand, seeing the Dutch as lacking width and panache.
But after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Gio van Bronckhorst send the Italians packing with goals that oozed pure class, the critics' silence was deafening.
For Van Basten, "it was an historic result because in the past we have never beaten Italy 3-0. This was a serious performance. The players responded in a wonderful way and played like a team, showing amazing spirit. If we play with this quality we can have nice dreams.�
In reviving Total Football Monday, van Basten and company appear ready to make a stand against the so-called 4-6-0 formation which Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira suggested was the game's strikerless future at the turn of the Century.
It used to be said of Pele-era Brazil that at least some players had to 'carry the piano' to enable the top maestros to play it, but Monday all of the Dutch turned in a collective showing which was music to their fans' ears.
Now, all van Basten has to do is test the courage of his convictions Friday against the French, who were utterly devoid of the invention and cutting edge the Dutch showed in spades during Les Bleus' dire goalless draw with Romania, who actually beat the Dutch to top spot in their qualifying group.
"We cannot talk of a new era; we have only won one game," warned van Basten, while Sneijder echoed that, saying 'it's not in the bag yet.'