Netherlands thrashes Northern Ireland 6-0

The Netherlands thrashed Northern Ireland 6-0 in a morale

boosting friendly on Saturday before heading to the European

Championship.

The mismatch pitted the fourth-ranked Netherlands against No.

100 in FIFA’s world rankings, but will at least have served to

boost confidence in the Dutch camp that had been criticized for

lackluster performances in three other friendlies. Those ended in

defeats to Bayern Munich and Bulgaria and a narrow victory over

Slovakia.

Robin van Persie and Ibrahim Afellay grabbed two goals each and

Wesley Sneijder curled in a free kick as the potent Dutch forward

line cut through the Irish defense almost at will.

The Netherlands had a 4-0 lead at halftime and Afellay made it

5-0 shortly after the break before a string of substitutions broke

the Dutch rhythm.

Defender Ron Vlaar headed home a corner in the 78th minute to

complete the rout.

”We shouldn’t start dancing in the streets, because we are not

there yet,” coach Bert van Marwijk said. ”But we are on the right

track.”

Given space and time by the Irish, the Dutch stars showed off

their skills and slick passing to run away with the match with Van

Persie and Sneijder combining well in the center, while the shaky

Netherlands defense was barely tested.

”If the team plays well, then the class players up front can

make the difference,” captain Mark van Bommel said.

But hammering such a lowly opponent will do little to prepare

the World Cup runner-up for the European Championship’s toughest

group: Germany, Portugal and Denmark – all in the world top 10.

Van Marwijk started with the team he is expected to field next

Saturday in the Netherlands’ first Group B match, against Denmark,

with English Premier League top-scorer Van Persie at center forward

rather than Bundesliga top-scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

The Arsenal captain immediately repaid his coach’s confidence by

heading home Sneijder’s deep cross in the 11th minute for his 27th

goal in his 65th international.

Sneijder doubled the lead just four minutes later from a free

kick, and Van Persie made it 3-0 with a 29th-minute penalty.

Ibrahim Afellay, playing only his second international since

recovering from a serious left knee injury, completed the

first-half scoring in the 37th, ending a flowing move from left to

right with a low, first-time shot past goalkeeper Lee Camp.

The midfielder opened the scoring after the break after another

swift attack. Robben passed from the right to Van Persie, who laid

the ball back for Afellay to fire just inside the post.

Substitute Rafael van der Vaart and Robben both went close

before defender Ron Vlaar scored his first international goal, with

a powerful header, to make it 6-0.