The Independent’s Sam Wallace on the Netherlands’ 3-0 dispatch of Italy in Euro 2008’s Group C, the Azzurri’s heaviest defeat in nearly 40 years.

The big question at full-time was whether the Andrea Pirlo generation of Italian football has finally reached the end of the road just as Euro 2008 is really getting going. The other pressing concern was why the Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt allowed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 25th minute goal to stand when the former Manchester United striker was at least three yards offside. As Italy stewed, Van Basten’s team took care of business and served up a performance that won the game without the help of the officials.

Their second goal was glorious, a box-to-box marvel finished off by Wesley Sneijder that said if this Netherlands team can keep their tempers with one another long enough, they might just win this tournament. Italy? They looked like England in November 2007: cautious, tired and unimaginative. And their centre-forward Luca Toni made Dean Ashton’s unsteady recent international debut look like a masterclass in comparison. With France drawing with Romania, Group C has become a dangerous place for Italy.

Donadoni refused to blame the defeat on the Swedish officials but he held them responsible for the first goal which was so far offside even Van Nistelrooy glanced disbelievingly at linesman Stefan Wittberg. From close range, the Real Madrid striker had turned in Sneijder’s shot after the Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had clawed away a free-kick crossed from the right wing. The only explanation for the referee’s decision was that Christian Panucci, who had collided with Buffon seconds earlier and was off the pitch, was adjudged to be playing Van Nistelrooy onside.

By the letter of the law “ Fifa rule 11.11 “ a player must ask for permission to leave pitch and can be judged active and in play if he does not. That was not an eventuality Panucci had evidently considered as he nursed whatever injury was dealt to him by his goalkeeper, oblivious to what was going on around him. “I’m not going to talk about the referee,” Donadoni said. “You saw it. Make up your own mind. I don’t know how Panucci ended up off the pitch. But we should have remedied it, we cannot find justification for defeat in that goal.”