Netherlands 2, Romania 0

There's not much to say about this game. It started slow, the Dutch fielded their B team, and yet the magic roused itself in the second half, and the Dutch carried themselves to victory yet again. The match literally didn't matter to the Dutch, who had won the group already and earned the right to advance. But it was do or die for the Romanians. The day before the match, some Romanian journalists showed up at the Dutch training camp holding signs that said, "Please let us win!" Fielding the second string was as nice a gesture toward that as you could make, but alas the team from Dracula's country still fell short.

Netherlands 4 France 1
It took a mere 8 minutes for the Dutch to strike again, and they never looked back, with four different players contributing to the lopsided domination. Another brilliant victory for the Orange Onslaught, who now look to be the tournament favorites playing on a different level than anyone else.

"The days of total football are back," proclaimed our friend Piet, who explained he is too young to remember the last time the Dutch dominated like this, which was the 1970s. He left briefly to call his father in Dubai. "My father's thing is, like, criticism and skepticism. His most famous attitude is 'eighty percent of the world is fucking retarded.' That sounds even harsher in Dutch. If we win a match 2-0, he'll spend the night explaining to my brother and me what they did wrong. Anyway, he's ecstatic."

My favorite moment was when the Dutch keeper -- the towering six-and-a-half-foot Edwin Van der Sar, who in his professional life keeps balls out of Manchester United's nets and inspires his own songs by his play -- batted away a would-be French goal as a bear might swat an annoying bee. The match was on a Friday, which meant the partying was much more intense, with cheesy songs bellowing from every open doorway and the streets wild with careening revellers. People are supremely confident now. "The whole country thinks we've already won the tournament," said a bystander. The win assures that Holland advances to the quarterfinals. Next up: Romania on Tuesday.

Netherlands 3, Italy 0

Lucius Van Pelt moves the ball just as Carlo Brownolio attempts to kick it

(This post has been transported back in time to give preference to the flooding issue.) If you're like me, you couldn't give a flying rat's ass about soccer -- or any spectator sport for that matter. The main gripe about soccer is that it's slow. A typical match might produce one goal, or three, or none, yet a "nil-nil" match might well be described to you, by a true fan with a straight face, as "exciting." Let's go to Kent Brockman in the skybox:
Halfback passes to the center.  Back to the wing.
Back to the center. Center holds it. Holds it.
Holds it. Holds it...
And there is only one ad break during the entire 90 minutes, which is the real reason it will never catch on in America. That's right, Taco Bell and AT&T, you're welcome to put up a small sign in the stadium, but otherwise keep your multimillions to yourselves.

However, if you live in Europe, there's just no way around it -- you have to deal with futbol one way or another. Whether it's dodging kids' street games while trying to ride your bike or simply sticking to the surface of the earth during a professional or international match, you cannot avoid the fact that the game is everywhere, all the time. On the other hand, it's really the only popular sport, which is a mercy. (Unless you're into rugby, cricket, or Gaelic football, in which case you need to seriously give me a break.)

The more matches you are forced to watch because there's nothing else to do, though, the more the game grows on you. You start admiring the beauty of passes, for example, or the shocking distance a man can send a ball with his head, or the latent theatrical talent that can turn a slight brush against a player's leg into something that apparently felt like amputation with a rusty saw. Perhaps the greatest things about soccer are the events on its periphery -- mainly the colorful pub commentary ("Fuck off, ya TWAT!" or "Christ's sake, GET ON WITH IT, WANKERS!"), and the admiring disbelief with which the game's followers regard transactions such as Ronaldo's $200 million transfer from Manchester United to Madrid -- and, of course, the senseless violence on the part of the drunken public. On Sunday, for instance, 157 people were arrested for brawling after the Germany-Poland match. What the Germans and Poles have to be so sore about I guess I'll never understand.

At any rate, it's European Championship time, the every-four-years tournament that leap frogs with the World Cup. For the next couple weeks, the great and not-so-great teams will battle for bragging rights. The Dutch squad, from what I gather, is rather middling in talent and success, and in the first round they drew the absolute worst possible opponents for their first two matches: Italy, winner of the last World Cup, and France, whom Italy barely defeated in that World Cup thanks to penalty kicks, the lamest method of breaking a tie game that has ever been conceived.

Last night was the Holland-Italy match. In preparation, the entire country spent the day and indeed the preceding weekend dressing in the most flagrant orange, hanging banners over anything and everything, and driving around recklessly on $8 a gallon gas honking and flapping little flags from their cars and scooters. This in defiance of the certain knowledge they were going to lose and lose badly. I watched the contest in our living room, by which I mean the Irish pub down the street, which due to its strategic location was nearly surrounded by riot police (who came in and ordered Cokes). Traca was on her way back from a family visit in Ireland and was trying to get there before the kickoff, having landed a half hour before and dragged her suitcase through the eerily empty luggage-rattling cobblestone streets, with the only indications of human habitation being the roars emitted periodically by the orange-festooned houses. The pub was teeming with brave folks ready to grit their teeth, swill beer to ease the pain, and go home disappointed as always, fact being Holland had not defeated Italy in 30 years. About five seconds into the match, someone looked up from his paper and cried out, "Has Italy won yet?"

A neighbor's house

Then suddenly Holland scored, and cries of exuberance jiggled orange rooftop tiles all across the nation. Then they scored again, and a prolonged cheer went up to heaven, swelling the air with the pure energy of simple joy. Italy could do nothing right. Holland could do nothing wrong. In the second half they scored yet again and ended up handing Italy not only their asses on a plate, but their worst tournament defeat in 38 years. (Highlight clips.) There followed plenty of jubilation as expected, but as far as I know the riot police went home disappointed, without bloodstains. It was only the first of three scheduled matches for Holland. And Italians haven't invaded this country since the Roman Empire. And after all, we're talking about the sober and practical Dutch people on a Monday night.

However, the match against France is on a Friday. Next Friday. France who tied Romania yesterday in a riveting match . . . 0-0.

Bonus: the words to "Hup Holland," a popular voetbal song, translated a tad too literally into English:

Go Holland Go
Don’t let yourself be stripped of your vest
Go Holland Go
Don’t put slippers on the beast
Go Holland Go
Stay undaunted
Because a lion on football boots
Can beat the whole world

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