France earned a place in the Euro 96 semi finals after a 5-4 penalty shootout win that followed a hard fought 0-0 game through extra time. Right back Lilian Thuram was among the star performers for France as they were forced to defend long spells of Dutch pressure late in regulation and during extra time.
France manager Aime Jacquet made one change from the 3-1 win over Bulgaria that sealed progress to the knockout stages. Patrice Loko was handed a start at center forward over Christophe Dugarry, as a reward for coming off the bench to score the third goal in a win that sealed France’s spot as Group B winners.
France lined up in their now familiar 4-3-3, with Youri Djorkaeff and Christian Karembeu lining up either side of Loko in the attack.
As expected, Netherlands manager Guus Hiddink made a number of changes following the heavy defeat to England that ended group play. Patrick Kluivert’s late goal to pull the score back to 4-1 against England sealed progress as Group A runners up courtesy of the goals scored tiebreaker, and he was rewarded with a start here with Peter Hoekstra dropping to the bench. Johan de Kock and Philip Cocu were also drafted into the starting lineup for this game, replacing Clarence Seedorf and Aron Winter.
Hiddink also made a couple of alterations that were likely designed to bolster the Dutch defensive and midfield lines. Netherlands lined up in a 4-3-3 defensively for the first time all tournament, with De Kock partnering Danny Blind in central defense. The system did have some fluidity, as when Dutch had the ball one of the pair stepped high to give the formation the same 3-4-3 diamond look adopted in the group stages. The switch of De Kock for Seedorf was likely designed largely to strengthen the Dutch defense in the face of strong aerial striker Dugarry.
In midfield, star forward Dennis Bergkamp dropped to more of an attacking central midfield role, playing behind Kluivert who was deployed as the lone striker. This role would likely see Bergkamp see more of the ball in deeper positions, and was possibly influenced by the huge success England forward Teddy Sheringham had found dropping into midfield areas to trouble the Dutch in the final group game.
France midfielder Didier Deschamps found himself in the referee’s book early, when he was carded for dragging down Richard Witschge to slow a Dutch counter attack in the 7th minute.
France won a wide free kick in the 14th minute when right back Thuram charged forward and was impeded by Witschge, who this time found himself on the wrong end of Spanish referee Antonio Lopez Nieto’s whistle. Djorkaeff fizzed a dangerous cross to the near post area, where Karembeu headed wide of the target.
The Dutch won a corner with a direct attack in the 21st minute, when Blind looked up facing no pressure deep inside his own half, and launched a long pass forward looking to play Kluivert in behind. French center back Laurent Blanc tracked the forward step for step and put in a challenge to concede a corner.
French goalkeeper Bernard Lama ended up in no man’s land after coming unsuccessfully to claim the corner, but De Boer missed a big chance by heading wide at the back post.
France carved out a 23rd minute chance that started when Zinedine Zidane passed to Bixente Lizarazu who was surging forward from left back. Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar missed Lizarazu’s cross in the air and the ball reached Karembeu at the back post. The winger’s initial shot was blocked by Winston Bogarde, the rebound fell back to Karembeu, only for him to fire a shot high into the Anfield crowd behind the goal.
The French fullbacks were proving to be a threat on both flanks, and Thuram created a chance minutes later when he charged forward before finding striker Loko, but the striker’s shot was straight at Van der Sar.
Netherlands sprung a dangerous attack in the 38th minute, when Jordi Cruyff picked the ball up deep inside his own half and launched a ball over the top for Bergkamp who’s attempted cutback was intercepted by Blanc.
The game was starting to heat up, and Karembeu chipped a pass into the feet of Loko in the 39th minute. The striker controlled the ball with his back to goal with Bogarde tight to his back, and created space for himself before shooting wide.
The game reached halftime scoreless, something that was maybe not too surprising given the defensive adjustments of Hiddink, and the consistently good defensive displays of France in the tournament so far. Both coaches would be looking to make adjustments at the half designed to keep the clean sheet intact, while also carving out a potentially decisive goal.
French winger Christian Karembeu picked up an early second half booking for delaying the taking of a free kick near the halfway line. Such a seemingly trivial act would have big consequences for Karembeu, as he would now be suspended for the semi final if France were to make it that far. A frustrated Karembeu went into a heavy sliding challenge on Bergkamp just minutes later, but avoided another card for the foul.
France broke down the Dutch backline with some slick interplay in the 52nd minute, but the attack ended when an overhit cross from Vincent Guerin sailed out of play for a goal kick.
Netherlands manager made a somewhat surprising, and possibly injury enforced substitution in the 60th minute when Bergkamp was replaced by Seedorf in midfield. Bergkamp walked down the tunnel immediately after the substitution, possibly to receive treatment.
A minute later, France manager Jacquet responded by freshening up his attack, replacing Loko with Dugarry at center forward. The first action after Dugarry was introduced was a shooting range free kick for France, Zidane stepped up to take but fired his effort wide.
Zidane was on the ball again during France’s next attack and played a ball in behind for Dugarry to chase, with De Kock coming over to challenge and concede the corner. Djorkaeff sent in the corner looking for Marcel Desailly at the near post, but the ball was worked clear by a pair of Dutch defenders.
France were beginning to gain the upper hand and won another shooting range free kick when Djorkaeff tried to feed Dugarry on the edge of the area, but the striker conceded a free kick for a foul on De Kock.
Determined to make an impression, striker Dugarry was chasing a ball into the channel again in the 65th minute, but was whistled for pulling defender Michael Reiziger’s shirt up over his head as the pair tussled for possession.
Dugarry and Reiziger’s duel continued as they found themselves 1v1 out wide a minute later, and this time the striker created space and lifted a cross into the hands of Lama.
De Kock was standing strong for the Dutch, but did receive a 68th minute yellow card for bringing down Djorkaeff in full flow. Djorkaeff drilled the resulting free kick into the wall, with Deschamps picking up the rebound and crossing for Guerin to head wide.
In the 69th minute, Hiddink made another substitution that seemed to add defensive stability fro the Dutch, more than it did attacking flair. Winger Cruyff was brought off and replaced out wide by Winter, after this substitution Netherlands were now without arguably their two best attackers so far during the tournament in the form of Cruyff and Bergkamp.
The tight nature of this contest was indicated when TV graphics displayed that as of the 75th minute, France had managed 3 shots on goal, whereas the Dutch had not forced Lama to make a single save.
France were awarded a chance to add to that tally in the 76th minute, when Bogarde was adjudged to have fouled Dugarry just outside the penalty area. Striker Dugarry took the free kick himself, but his effort was fired straight into the Dutch wall.
Seedorf raced down the right wing for the Dutch before his cross was cleared at the back post by Thuram, and then a free kick awarded 30 yards out for a foul on Kluivert. De Boer crossed in the free kick and De Kock rose to head wide at the back post.
The Dutch were entering a good spell of the game, and in the 78th minute Blind played a pass wide to Cocu. The cross from Cocu found a wide open Kluivert in front of goal, only for the striker to head the chance wide.
Netherlands midfielder Witschge had been off the field receiving injury treatment, and was subsequently replaced by Youri Mulder. In a sign of this game’s physical nature. French substitute striker Dugarry was also forced off and replaced with Reynald Pedros.
The French received a massive slice of fortune in the 83rd minute, when Seedorf floated a high cross towards Kluivert, and Desailly intervened with his hand to block the cross. Referee Neto awarded Netherland a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, only for TV replays showed that Desailly had actually handled inside the area and a penalty should have been given.
De Boer rolled the free kick to Cocu, and the midfielders powerful shot was deflected onto the post and behind for a corner by Blanc. A combination of Karembeu and Thuram cleared the corner and the French fans were allowed to breathe again.
Netherlands continued to push forward in search of a dramatic winner, and won a wide free kick when De Boer was tripped by Guerin. Seedorf’s free kick eventually fell to De Boer, and his cross was deflected behind for a corner by Thuram. Seedorf sent over the corner, but an attacking foul whistled on the Dutch gave France some relief.
After being second best for long spells of regulation time, Netherlands were finishing the stronger of the two teams and carved out a huge chance to win in the 89th minute. Mulder played a through ball to the onrushing Seedorf, and Lama was forced to come off his line quickly and make a game saving 1v1 stop.
The movement of center forward Kluivert played a key role in the creation of this chance. Kluivert made a run wide, dragging center back Desailly with him and allowing Seedorf to run into the vacated space with his run from deep.
Netherlands won a wide free kick deep into injury time, but Karembeu headed away to clear his lines and sent the scoreless game into extra time.
Netherlands started the extra period on the front foot, and De Boer was released down the right wing before crossing for Kluivert who sent his volley high into the Anfield stands.
France won a 96th minute corner when Karembeu’s cross was deflected behind by Cocu. The inswinging corner from Pedros missed everyone as it bounced in front of Van der Sar and went out for a goal kick.
Van der Sar had to produce a big save to keep the game scoreless just before the extra time interval. Impressive substitute Pedros crossed to the edge of the area, and Bogarde’s slip allowed Zidane to take a touch and direct the ball to Djorkaeff six yards out, only for Van der Sar to make a big save at his feet.
There was no lack of ambition from either team as the game entered the second period of extra time, and Netherlands won a 109th minute free kick on the edge of the penalty area when Mulder was fouled by Blanc. Seedorf shot from the free kick and his effort was deflected off the wall and behind for a corner. Seedorf strode over to take the corner, but his low cross failed to beat the first man.
The impact of Pedros was starting to play a big role for France, and the substitute forward burst down the wing before switching play to Djorkaeff with a driven pass. Djorkaeff took a touch outside the area before firing a well hit shot that was saved by Van der Sar.
Djorkaeff was on the attack again soon after when he drove forward on the dribble and exchanged passes with Zidane before drawing a foul on the edge of the area. The kick was delayed when referee Neto had to intervene and curtail some wrestling in the wall. Eventually, Djorkaeff took the kick but lifted his effort over the crossbar.
France had one last chance to find a winning goal, when Guerin fed Zidane just outside the area, before the midfielder curled his shot wide of the target. Time expired soon after, and this game became the second straight quarter final of the tournament to end extra time scoreless and go to the penalty shootout tiebreaker.
Both teams converted on the first three rounds of penalty kicks, before Seedorf stepped up and his poor effort was saved by Lama. Guerin and Blind then converted to send Blanc up for the last penalty knowing a goal would win the game for France, and a miss would send things to sudden death. Nervelessly, Blanc sent Van der Sar the wrong way and rolled the ball home to cue wild celebrations and send France into the tournament’s final four.
POST GAME FALLOUT
France’s success in the tournament so far had been built on strong defensive play, and they rode that here to see off significant Dutch pressure in the later stages of regulation and through extra time. Fullback Thuram in particular was impressive, and while not providing a goal the French had shown some threat in attack, particularly through Djorkaeff.
The French front three would be without the suspended Karembeu for the semi final, and Pedros had staked his claim for a start with a strong performance here after coming off the bench. Loko and Dugarry continued to be involved in a close fight to win the start at center forward.
Netherlands will have been bitterly disappointed to exit the tournament, but coach Hiddink could at least take some consolation from how strongly his team bounced back from a heavy defeat to England ahead of this quarter final.
The defensive adjustments Hiddink deployed for this game were effective, and his team carved out a number of chances that could have won it late in regulation and during extra time.
Seedorf missed the decisive penalty in the shootout, and was seemingly at the heart of some locker room issues that would have to be addressed for the Dutch to move forward after the tournament.
NET Johan de Kock (scored) 1-0
FRA Zinedine Zidane (scored) 1-1
NET Ronald de Boer (scored) 2-1
FRA Youri Djorkaeff (scored) 2-2
NET Patrick Kluivert (scored) 3-2
FRA Bixente Lizarazu (scored) 3-3
NET Clarence Seedorf (saved) 3-3
FRA Vincent Guerin (scored) 3-4
NET Danny Blind (scored) 4-4
FRA Laurent Blanc (scored) 4-5
MAN OF THE MATCH
#15 RD Lilian Thuram (France) – A colossus in defense, Thuram also provided a significant threat when surging forward down the right flank for the French in an impressive display.
3: RD Lilian Thuram – Man of the Match.
2: LD Bixente Lizarazu – In tandem with Thuram, Lizarazu did a fantastic job of defending the Dutch front three, and also contributed with a series of quality runs forward. Scored his penalty in the shootout.
1: CM Didier Deschamps – Particularly in the first half, was a key presence as Dutch attacking central midfield star Bergkamp was held relatively quiet. COnnected passes and switched the point of attack well throughout the game.
3: RD Michael Reiziger – An impressive performance that was key in keeping the clean sheet for the Dutch, was particularly impressive when meeting fire with fire while defending the physical target man Dugarry in the second half.
2: CD Johan de Kock – Not an easy matchup for the Dutch, but De Kock’s presence was a key force as he contributed blocks, tackles and headers throughout the game to stifle the French attack.
1: GK Edwin van der Sar – Made some key saves, one in particular at the feet of Djorkaeff in extra time that were an important factor in sending the game to the shootout tie breaker.