We are going back to June 9, 2008, the day that the European Championship started in Austria and Switzerland for the Netherlands. Marco van Basten’s team was in a very tough group, with Romania and the two World Cup finalists from two years earlier. The group stage was started against the reigning world champion Italy. Many Dutch pessimists knew for sure: this will be nothing.
They were right next to it. The Netherlands shot out of the starting blocks in Bern and took the lead via a ticker from Ruud van Nistelrooy before Sneijder doubled the margin five minutes later. The year-old Utrechter was the end station of a lightning-fast counter-attack, set up by the star of Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Eleven minutes before time Gio made the final chord himself: 3-0.
For Orange, this beautiful victory meant a dream start of the European Championship. And that while the plan of Sneijder, then a player of Real Madrid, had still failed. In the run-up to the tournament, he tried to maneuver the Dutch team into an underdog position in front of his Italian teammate Fabio Cannavaro. Perhaps it would lead to underestimation in the reigning world champion, soon in Bern.
“So I said to Fabio that the Netherlands will be a piece of cake for Italy,” Sneijder told VI at the time. “But he didn’t want to hear about that. In fact, Cannavaro said that he sees the Netherlands as the most dangerous opponent in the group. More dangerous than France, too. So my setup failed. Within a minute, the Netherlands had changed from an underdog to an angstgegner. Well, then we have to take advantage of that. ” And it worked.
Every now and then Wijnaldum still makes a difference thanks to his past as an attacking midfielder. For example, the Orange-international made two important goals in the semi-finals of the Champions League against Barcelona last year, which ultimately resulted in the CL win with Liverpool. It is the greatest success of his career, and – depending on the outcome of the corona crisis – perhaps another league title will be added.
After the victory over Italy, vice-world champion France was also convincingly defeated (4-1), so that after two group matches the Netherlands was assured of a place in the quarterfinals. It turned out that Guus Hiddink’s Russia turned out to be too strong and Sneijder’s European Championship dream was dashed. But he will never forget that birthday in Switzerland.