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San Marco receives a Ruud awakening

Portugal 1, Netherlands 0.
Or perhaps Big Phil 5, San Marco 0 is more apposite.
For despite all the hype surrounding Marco van Basten's Oranje revolution, the fact is, he has achieved nothing on the world stage as a manager.
Three times European player of the year and twice the recipient of FIFA's world counterpart, "The Swan of Utrecht" was incontestibly the greatest striker of his generation ─ perhaps of all time. Few who witnessed his extraordinary performances in the 1988 European Championship in which he scooped the Golden Boot with five goals ─ scoring what is widely-regarded as one of the greatest-ever goals in the final ─ will forget the experience.
That his glittering career was cut so woefully short by persistent ankle problems is, in footballing terms, a tragedy.
But despite his achievements and accolades he was no match for Luiz Felipe Scholari.
While the end was in the process of beginning for van Basten in the early '90s, the "Sergeant Major" as he is affectionately known was just starting to establish his resume as a manager with Brazilian minnow Criciuma. Scolari steered the little known outfit to the Brazilian Cup in 1991, stunning one of the country's top teams Gremio in the final.
As last night's triumph aptly demonstrated, Scolari is no dilettante when it comes to getting supposed underdogs to punch above their weight.
"Felipao" went on to take the helm of the vanquished, leading Gremio ─ for whom he played in the '70s ─ to cup and league wins and the Copa Libertadores in 1995. At the last World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002, he lead his country to its fifth World Cup, despite being regularly criticized in qualifying for what were seen in Brazil as unadventurous tactics.
In 2004 he took host Portugal to the final and this time round he is into the quarters of a major tournament again. The win over Holland was his 11th consecutive World Cup win and his fifth in the knockout stages. Scolari has consistently proven his ability as a cup manager. The one-off match is his specialty.
When things started to get ugly last night, van Basten looked, to borrow from Gershwin, like a little lamb lost in the woods. As one of several scuffles flared-up on the touchline, Big Phil was noticeably right there trying to separate the squabbling parties. Several times he used these breaks in play to slip messages to his players. The more things heated up, the more involved he appeared, while van Basten had an air of resignation about him, his gaze ever more vapid.
And when he was most needed, where was that perennial goal-poacher Ruud van Nistelrooy? His lackadaisical ways are not news to those who heard Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson's views on "non-triers" when the former PSV star was benched after underpar performances late last season. But with crosses continuing to ping across the face of the goal and no one looking remotely like getting on the end of them, who could not feel for van Nistelrooy as he sat gloomily on the bench watching his international career gurgle down the toilet. Whatever the differences between the manager and the striker he had glowingly tipped to be top scorer at this tournament, bringing on that football jersey-printer's nightmare Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was surely one snub too far.
Despite some wretched officiating, Dutch fans are entitled to ask some questions of van Basten's decision making.
His sole experience before taking charge of the national team was with Ajax reserves and the hype surrounding this young Dutch side now appears to have been overblown, the team's tactics naive.
San Marco was a wonder player, but he has a lot to learn before he can give the likes of Big Phil a run for their money.


Updated : 2021-10-19 03:06 GMT+08:00