The orange men of Holland march into the final of the FIFA World Cup after beating surprise hits Uruguay 3 – 2 in the first Semi Final.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Few would have predicted that the last South American hope in this tournament would be minnows Uruguay and fewer still would have put money on Holland dumping Brazil out on their route to the semi final but these two made it, by hook or crook. And credit must go to the two sides who, unlike many of the favourites, always looked unified in and who have consistently done ‘just enough’ to win games.
‘Just enough’ was a little too much for some as Uruguay came into this game playing the pantomime villain after smashing Ghana’s world cup dream in a decidedly unsporting manner in the last round. Bad boy Suarez, who patted the ball off his own goal line to deny Ghana a last minute winner was absent here, serving his one match ban and many may feel that justice has been restored as Uruguay were certainly a lesser side without him.
Indeed his zip, pace and aggression were largely absent from both sides for the majority of the game and it was really only the goals themselves that displayed the class each team had to offer.
Holland’s first goal came from one of their classiest and most experienced. Seemingly out of the blue, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst unleashed an unstoppable shot from 40 yards out that slotted perfectly into the top left corner leaving the keeper stranded. Not even Suarez on the line could have kept that one out.
It was a sublime strike that should have fired up the game but the rest of the half was largely played out in the middle of the park before Diego Forlan stepped up in the 40th minute. Class and poise personified, Forlan has been one of the stars of this tournament, and his fourth goal of the competition was yet again a sumptuous, curling strike from outside the box. Dutch keeper Stekelenburg may have felt he could have done better but Forlan is truly a master of the Jubliani ball and it seemed to just curl away from the goalkeeper at the last moment.
Just as they have from the very first game of this tournament, the Dutch bounced back and the second of the three Dutch goals seemed to sum up their route to the final. Snejder’s shot from the edge of the box was clearly going wide but a couple of deflections and a hint of Van Persie interfering with play from an offside position only worked in his favour and the ball miraculously found its way in the back of the net. It wasn’t pretty but it was just enough to edge Holland ahead.
The Europeans seemed keen to ride their good fortune and went ahead again only 3 minutes later. This time round the goal was crisp, clean and stylish as you could ask for, as Robben picked up his second of the tournament with a rare and perfectly directed header from a Dirk Kuyt cross. Two sublime Dutch strikes the bookends to a dodgy looking middle one.
The Uruguayans didn’t go down without a fight and Maxi Pereira sent Dutch hearts aflutter by clawing one back deep into extra time. But Holland held on and did just enough to win their sixth game in a row and a place in the World Cup final. The great ‘Total footballers’ of 1974 couldn’t do it but these efficient contemporary Dutchmen might just take their ‘just enough’ game all the way to World Cup glory. All eyes will be on Gemany v Spain in the second Semi Final tomorrow night.
- Forlan, 41
- Pereira, 90+2
- Van Bronckhorst, 18
- Sneijder, 70
- Robben, 73
Uruguay: 1-Fernando Muslera; 3-Diego Godin, 6-Mauricio Victorino, 5-Walter Gargano, 16-Maximiliano Pereira (Abreu, 78), 22-Martin Caceres, 15-Diego Perez, 11-Alvaro Pereira, 17-Egidio Arevalo, 7-Edinson Cavani, 10-Diego Forlan (S Fernandez, 84).
Netherlands: 1-Maarten Stekelenburg; 12-Khalid Boulahrouz, 3-John Heitinga, 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 7-Dirk Kuyt, 6-Mark van Bommel, 10-Wesley Sneijder, 14-Demy de Zeeuw (Van der Vaart, 46), 11-Arjen Robben (Elia, 90); 9-Robin van Persie