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EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP

Netherlands Wins on Penalty Kicks

June 27, 2004|From Associated Press

LOULE, Portugal — The Netherlands reached the semifinals of the European Championship, defeating Sweden, 5-4, on penalty kicks Saturday and avoiding the fate that has claimed a host of soccer powers.

The quarterfinal was tied, 0-0, after regulation and overtime. It was the first time in five attempts the Dutch have won on penalty kicks at a major championship.

"At last we were able to do it -- fantastic," said Arjen Robben, who made the clinching kick. "We showed character, fought and always remained positive."

The Netherlands will face host Portugal on Wednesday. The other semifinal is Thursday involving Greece and the winner of today's game between the Czech Republic and Denmark.

Five of Europe's strongest teams have been eliminated: defending champion France, Spain, Italy, England and Germany. The final is July 4 in Lisbon.

The Dutch were in the semifinals four years ago at home. Sweden was trying to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1992 when it was the host.

"I think we had a very good game, playing on this level equal with the Dutch team," Sweden Coach Lars Lagerback said. "It was a really good match and it could have gone either way."

Olof Mellberg failed to convert the decisive penalty kick for Sweden, his shot saved by goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. Robben then won it for the Dutch.

"I didn't think, put my brains in neutral and told myself 'I will make it,' " Robben said.

Robben came close to scoring in the third minute of overtime. His low shot was fumbled by Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson onto the post, but Roy Makaay was unable to get to the rebound.

In the 16th minute, Isaksson made an acrobatic one-handed save on Clarence Seedorf's free kick from 20 yards. At the other end, Henrik Larsson hit the crossbar and Fredrik Ljungberg's hard shot bounced off the post of Van Der Sar's goal.

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