Netherlands edge out Sweden on penalties

Associated Press

Loule, June 27:

Finally, the Netherlands won a penalty shootout and the reward was a trip to the semi-finals of the European Championship. Arjen Robben converted the key spot kick on Saturday to give the Netherlands a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Sweden after a 0-0 draw through extra time. Edwin Van der Sar saved Olof Mellberg’s shot to give Robben the opportunity to clinch the match, and the future Chelsea player coolly slotted the ball into the left corner. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another Ajax player, also missed for Sweden, while Phillip Cocu hit the post for the Dutch. It was the first time in five attempts that the Dutch won a penalty shootout at a major championship. Robben got close to scoring in the third minute of extra time but his low shot was fumbled by Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson onto the post and Roy Makaay was unable to get to the rebound.

But the match could have gone the other way too, with Henrik Larsson’s shot hitting the Dutch crossbar and Fredrik Ljungberg’s rocket bouncing off the post of Van der Sar’s goal deep into second period of extra time. “I think we had a very good game, playing on this level equal with the Dutch team,” Sweden co-coach Lars Lagerback said. “It was a really good match and it could have gone either way.” The Netherlands will face Portugal on Wednesday at Lisbon’s Jose Alvalade Stadium in its second straight European Championship semifinal. The Dutch reached the last four when they co-hosted the tournament four years ago, only to lose to Italy in a penalty shootout.

“This an enormous release,” Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat said. “It was a difficult game in which the long ball was used too much. We radiated the desire to win the shootout, even if it is a bit of luck. It’s wonderful how the group came together, the players and I had a talk and Edwin was able to stop a shot,” he said. Advocaat said the team spent “zero hours” practicing penalties, which he views as a lottery. “Sweden practiced yesterday and now you can see the result.” About 20,000 orangeclad Dutch fans celebrated wildly at the Algarve stadium between the cities of Loule and Faro. The match was uneventful in the first half but both teams got chances late. In the 16th minute of extra time, Isaksson was forced to make an acrobatic one-handed save on Clarence Seedorf’s free kick from 20 metres. The match was also the end of Sweden’s unusual co-coaching arrangement. Tommy Soderberg will now move to Sweden’s youth teams while Lagerback stays on as the head coach of the senior team.