Ten-man Italy lined up a Euro 2000 final with France here on Thursday, beating Holland 3-1 on penalties after the Dutch had sensationally missed two spot-kicks during the opening 90 minutes.
The match was deadlocked at 0-0 after extra-time and Italy, whose last three World Cup campaigns have all ended in defeat in penalty shoot-outs, sealed victory when Dutch defender Paul Bosvelt saw his spot-kick saved by Francesco Toldo.
Frank De Boer, Jaap Stam and Bosvelt all missed for the Dutch while only Patrick Kluivert netted successfully in the shoot-out for the 'Oranje'. De Boer and Kluivert had meanwhile missed their spot-kicks during regulation time.
By contrast, Luigi di Biagio, Gianluca Pessotto and Francesco Totti all hit the target in the shoot-out for Italy with only skipper Paolo Maldini seeing his shot saved by Juventus 'keeper Edwin van der Sar.
Holland coach Frank Rijkaard resigned immediately after the match.
"I set my sights too high," said Rijkaard, a playing member of Holland's 1988 European Championship winning team. "It did not work and I must now take the consequences. I have now turned the page."
Italy coach Dino Zoff paid tribute to his men for their efforts, but urged them not to stop now that they face France on Sunday.
"We've won this battle," he said. "Now we have a final against truly great side. But we are certainly going to go out to win it."
Zoff was asked to smile by Italian journalists but retorted in his usual deadpan manner: "Let's wait until the final - but this is a good result for us."
Toldo, who received the Man-of-the-Match award, said: "The whole team deserved to win - especially in the second half when they worked their socks off."
The semi-final was a victory for Italian defending over Dutch attacking, with Zoff's back line putting in a heroic performance after playing almost 90 minutes of football with only 10 men against the tournament hosts and favourites.
Gianluca Zambrotta got his marching orders in the 33rd minute from German referee Markus Merk after a second yellow card - tripping midfielder Boudewijn Zenden, who had been booked minutes earlier for taking a dive in the penalty area.
Six minutes after the Juventus winger was dismissed, Holland were awarded their first penalty when Lazio skipper Alessandro Nesta tugged at Kluivert's shirt as the Dutchman controlled the ball in the area.
Toldo was booked for protesting at the decision but took his revenge almost immediately.
De Boer cracked in his shot but Toldo guessed it would go to his left and pulled off a spectacular save, arms flailing, to push the ball away for a corner.
It was the second setback for the Dutch in a half which had also seen Arsenal forward Dennis Bergkamp hit the post after delightfully sidestepping Mark Iuliano.
The Dutch pressure and dogged Italian defending continued in the second half - causing another penalty in the 61st minute when Iuliano tripped Edgar Davids as his Juventus teammate accelerated past.
Kluivert stepped up for the kick and beat Toldo with a low shot - but could only watch in horror as it slammed against the base of the left-hand post and was scrambled away by the Italian defence.
The miss set up a finale to a match which had initially gone to both team's plans, with Holland doing all the attacking and Italy doing all the defending.
Unfortunately for Italy, their expected chances on the counter-attack simply never materialised, due a mixture of poor passing and tight defending, and they didn't manage a single shot at goal in the first half.
By contrast, Holland needed only three minutes to pierce Italy's defence with Kluivert and Bergkamp linking up well to put Phillip Cocu through for a lob which the Barcelona midfielder hooked over the crossbar.
Bergkamp was never going to beat Toldo from a dozen metres when he met Giovanni van Bronckhorst's cross with a well-coordinated header in the 12th minute.
But only a couple of centimetres denied him two minutes later, when Bergkamp picked up the ball outside Italy's area, ghosted past defender Iuliano and steered a daisy-cutter onto the Toldo's right-hand post.
Italy continued to live dangerously with Iuliano's backheader nearly catching Toldo out as he challenged Kluivert in the 22nd minute.
However, there was much worse to come with Zambrotta's red card, Nesta's penalty tug and a closing 10 minutes to the half in which both Kluivert and Bergkamp came close to breaking the deadlock.
Italy, despite being a man down, showed more initiative at the re-start with Stefano Fiore sending in a looping shot which van der Sar turned unneccessarily round the post and Alessandro Del Piero driving one free-kick against a Dutch wall and another into a packed penalty area.
But Holland soon settled back into their rhythm and Zenden forced a fine save when he swiped at a loose ball on the edge of the area in the 56th minute.
Five minutes later, it looked to be all over - only for Kluivert to smack his penalty against the woodwork.
Holland kept up the pressure while Zoff, who had dropped Francesco Totti for Del Piero in the starting line-up, threw on the AS Roma playmaker for Fiore, and replaced Filippo Inzaghi with Marco Delvecchio.
Bergkamp made way for Clarence Seedorf in the closing minutes and the Inter Milan midfielder nearly scored within seconds after getting in a close-range shot after communication breakdown between Maldini and Iuliano.
Holland stepped up the pace in extra-time, but both sides had a chance to score a Golden Goal.
Delvecchio saw his shot on the break turned round the post by van der Sar, while Kluivert's angled effort from half a dozen metres beat Toldo but flew just wide of the far post - sending his team into the fatal shoot-out -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)