A virtuoso performance by Arjen Robben paved the way for victory in Holland's opening encounter of the World Cup, against Serbia and Montenegro.
The Chelsea winger was at the heart of an impressive performance by Marco van
Basten's young Dutch side, and Holland have served notice that they should be
regarded as realistic contenders.
Serbia were defensively strong but wasted the few chances they created, and
were never comfortable dealing with Robben, who scored the only goal of the game
in the 18th minute.
In truth, Holland will be disappointed not to have made several opportunities
count but, given the toughness of Group C, will be content to have registered
The blend of youth along with the experience of Phillip Cocu, Mark van Bommel
and Ruud van Nistelrooy looks perfectly balanced, while the fluidity of their
attack should make them dangerous to any side.
Serbia had set out their stall to thwart the Dutch and rarely committed
numbers forward, but once they had gone behind that only played into Holland's
Matters might have been different had Savo Milosevic been more surgical with
two early chances. The first came after some brilliant skill by Predrag
Djordjevic left Joris Mathijsen standing and Milosevic managed to fall over
Mateja Kezman as the cross came in.
Former Aston Villa striker Milosevic should have done better again when given
time and space to shoot in the penalty area but his shot was feeble and Edwin
van der Sar made an easy save.
That proved costly as Robben then beat the offside trap to run on to Robin van
Persie's volleyed pass and finish with aplomb as keeper Dragoslav Jevric came
out to meet him.
The goal sent the 25,000 orange-clad fans in Leipzig's Zentralstadion into
raptures and Robben nearly sparked further celebrations with a fierce angled
drive that the goalkeeper managed to turn aside.
The Chelsea winger then set up Wesley Sneijder for a 20-yard strike but the
Ajax midfielder dragged it wide.
With the half-hour mark approaching Milosevic had a chance to make amends for
his earlier miss but sliced a first-time shot wide, then Kezman was off-target
with a far-post header from Djordjevic's cross.
The chances kept coming, and Van Persie directed a diving header at goal but
straight into Jevric's hands.
Robben was running rings round Nenad Djordjevic and once again he tormented
the Serbian full-back before sliding in a low shot that missed the far-post by
Serbia coach Ilija Petkovic had seen enough and replaced his unhappy
right-back. Ognjen Koroman, lately of Portsmouth, came on and Igor Duljaj moved
to right-back to try to stifle Robben.
Milosevic had been hugely disappointing and it was little surprise when he was
replaced at the break, with the towering Nikola Zigic taking his place.
At 6ft 8in, Zigic stands above England's Peter Crouch as the tallest player in
the tournament, but Serbia failed to use his height throughout the half.
Robben remained the chief danger, and he - who else - nearly connected with an
Jevric was alert enough to keep Serbia in the game when Van Nistelrooy tried
to back-heel in Sneijder's driven ball, but the Dutch might have conceded a
penalty when Kezman's cross struck Cocu's hand, only for referee Markus Merk to take the view it was unintentional.
Serbia were furious, but the decision looked the correct one. Soon afterwards,
Dejan Stankovic sent a free-kick over the bar, a disappointing outcome from a
Koroman had looked lively since he had come on, and an enterprising run ended
with a stinging low shot that Van der Sar spilled but the Manchester United
goalkeeper was able to claim the loose ball and prevent further embarrassment.
Serbia had hardly used Zigic at all, but when they finally did he caused havoc
in the Dutch defence, only for the ball to fall kindly to Van der Sar.
Robben then dragged another drive wide and Van Persie saw a free-kick miss by
a coat of paint but it mattered not to Holland. Life beckons beyond the group of