France, Netherlands Face Tough Test

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Tournament favorites France and the Netherlands can't afford the slightest complacency toward their next opponents.

The Dutch beat France 3-2 in Amsterdam on Wednesday. In many ways, the result suited both sides: The Netherlands guaranteed that its quarterfinal, against Yugoslavia, will be on home soil, while France's meeting with Spain will be near its Belgian training camp in Bruges.

But on the evidence of Wednesday's other matches, neither side is relishing its next opponent.

In one of the greatest European Championship matches ever, Spain beat Yugoslavia 4-3 with two injury-time goals — a result that advanced both sides.

Spain, trailing 3-2, looked down and out after 90 minutes in Bruges.

The Yugoslavs went ahead after 31 minutes on Savo Milosevic's fourth goal of the championship. Alfonso Peres tied it for Spain six minutes before halftime before substitute Dejan Govedarica regained the lead for the Yugoslavs in the 51st, four minutes after entering the game.

Almost from the restart, another replacement, Pedro Munitis, made it 2-2 before Yugoslav defender Slavisa Jokanovic was ejected in the 63rd. Slobodan Komljenovic made it 3-2 in the 75th minute. Spain then incredibly turned the game, Gaizka Mendieta scoring on a penalty shot and Alfonso firing in the winner in the 97th minute.

``This is the most important match I have ever played,'' said Spanish midfielder Josep Guardiola. ``This shows that in football the difference between heaven and hell is in one minute.''
``It was a game to treasure,'' Alfonso said.

The Yugoslavs were understandably bitter.

``The referee was the best Spanish player on the pitch,'' Slavisa Jokanovic said. ``I feel that if the Spaniards hadn't scored in injury time, he would have scored one for them.''

At the final whistle, the Yugoslavs thought they'd been knocked out. But Norway only managed a 0-0 draw with Slovenia, knocking both teams out of the competition.

``It was extremely disappointing,'' said Norwegian coach Nils Johan Semb, who admitted that his team had played for the draw in the last 20 minutes, never expecting Spain to score the two goals needed to win. ``We're out, that's life. I saw a Spanish journalist celebrate and I knew it was over.''

In Wednesday's other final group match game, the Czech Republic beat Denmark 2-0. Both sides were already out of the competition.

In Amsterdam, France fielded a second-string side, and the Netherlands also made changes.

The French twice took the lead on goals by Christophe Dugarry and David Trezeguet, but the Dutch hit back with Patrick Kluivert, Frank de Boer and Boudewijn Zenden, three of their Barcelona stars.

Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard was happy his team showed the grit to come back from a 2-1 deficit.

``They continued to believe in a good outcome. They managed the tension well,'' he said.

French coach Roger Lemerre said it had been a useful exercise to field some of his reserve players — defender Marcel Desailly was the only regular who played.

``Though I am not pleased with the result, I am satisfied that players that have not played until now showed their value,'' he said.

In the other weekend quarterfinals, it's Romania vs. Italy and Portugal vs. Turkey. Thursday and Friday are rest days.

Meanwhile, Germany flew home and will soon have a new coach after Erich Ribbeck, under fire over team selection and poor performances, announced he was quitting. Germany lost its last match 3-0 to a second-string Portuguese side. It also lost to England for the first time in 34 years.

``I failed to turn Germany's best players into a competitive team,'' he said. ``We were humiliated in the last game,'' Ribbeck said. ``This defeat hurts, but what hurts more is that we went out with a such a performance.''