By Kier Lymn
You could be forgiven for thinking the Netherlands were the favorites in this one. The fact that the Oranje beat Brazil in the quarter final whereas Uruguay only just knocked out Ghana, served to put pressure on the Dutch as they prepared for their latest South American obstacle in Cape Town. Sure, we know better than to think the Dutch would be intimidated by the occasion, after all Coach Bert Van Marwijk has spent the last week praising his team’s spirit. However cockroach like Uruguay has not paid too much respect to anybody in this tournament and they didn’t intend to start now.
The Dutch started with purpose, something they have previously failed to do in this tournament. After four minutes of build up, Kuyt find himself collecting from a cross that wasn’t dealt with by Uruguay goalkeeper Muslera. The Liverpool man looked as though he hadn’t realised just how much time he had and his hurried shot floated over the bar. It probably should have been first blood to the Netherlands.
Many players have launched audacious bids for glory with this ‘Jabulani’ ball and Alvaro Pereira was the first to have a crack from range. Maarten Stekelenburg was off his line and the attempt looked justified as it flew just too wide and high. Despite this, it was still the Dutch that were making all of the early running; Caceres failed to clear for the second time in the game on thirteen minutes, and as Kuyt pulled back for Sneijder, his shot blasted into Robin Van Persie. The expression on Sneijder’s face suggested the strike was goal bound.
The Netherlands were certainly building towards a goal but when it did come on 18 minutes nobody could have predicted its source. As Giovani Van Bronckhorst sauntered forward he realised he had an opportunity to test Muslera from range. It’s fair to say the Uruguayan keeper didn’t know much about it as the veteran’s precise yet powerful strike arrowed into the top corner. The goal could surely be nominated under the categories of ‘best goal’ and ‘most gasp-worthy goal’ in any generic post tournament ceremony.
The goal sprung Uruguay into life and they immediately set about trying to draw level. Demy De Zeeuw was victim of this eagerness, taking a boot to the face as Caceres attempted a bicycle kick. For twenty minutes the game settled and the two sides traded unsuccessful attacks. This was before the ever dangerous Diego Forlan decided to take the tie by the scruff of the neck. His improvisation found himself space enough to smash a trademark strike over Stekelenburg who perhaps should have been in a better position. Take nothing away from Forlan though, one of the few players who have mastered the behaviour of the controversial ball. It was almost ‘anything you can do I can do better’ as Uruguay drew level.
At the half we were left pondering which direction this game could take. The reality was, but for two wonder strikes it would be 0-0. The Oranje shone brighter in the opening stages but since Van Bronckhorst’s wonder strike, Uruguay had taken the initiative. They were certainly dispelling any suggestions that they were underdogs. At this stage, exactly at the beginning of the match, it could have gone either way.
Into the second half and Uruguay started brightly. A through ball to Edinson Cavani caught the Dutch defence out and the Palermo man almost rounded Stekelenburg but for the keepers quickness of mind. For the next 15-20 minutes the match was played like a game of tic tac toe, each side trying to catch the other out, but to no avail. The game sprung back into life in the 70th minute as Sneijder’s shot curled inside Muslera’s post for 2-1. The celebrations were muted as the Dutch defence expected to see the goal chalked out. Robin Van Persie looked to be offside and had undoubtedly interfered with play. The Uruguayans were furious but the goal stood. The referee’s assistant had given Van Persie the benefit of the doubt.
The second Dutch goal looked to have deflated the Uruguayans and Van Marwijk’s men didn’t have to wait long for the next one. Just three minutes later, Kuyt ran free on the right flank to cross for Robben who headed in much to his own surprise and delight. Uruguay looked disillusioned as their world cup dream was fading quickly. The Dutch had one foot in the final.
The third Netherlands goal had prompted them to slow the pace of the game by 50%. Uruguay looked desperate to get another goal but could not get the ball off the steady Dutch. This continued until the 87th minute when the Netherlands had the chance to put the icing on the cake. Robben collected a through ball that wasn’t really dealt with at all by the Uruguayan defence and looked the favourite as he sprinted towards goal. His left footed crusade cried out for a right footed rifle but this never came and his half hearted stab ended up in the gloves of Muslera.
Understandably Uruguay looked lethargic in the closing stages as they stared at defeat. This was suddenly converted into immense urgency as Maxi Pereira put the cat among the pigeons with a low strike that beat Stekelenburg at his left hand post. The 92nd minute goal looked too little too late but was to ensure a nervy last minute for the Dutch. Balls were pumped into the box and crosses were swung in as Uruguay put all hands to the pump. One solid clearance by the Netherlands had won it. They had reached their first world cup final since 1978. Sneijder, Robben and the rest of the team, all look to replace Neeskens and Cryuff in becoming the most successful Dutch team of all time.
The Netherlands will have to watch in anticipation on Wednesday night to see whether they will face Joachim Loew’s seemingly unstoppable German side or Vicente Del Bosque’s enigmatic Spanish charges in Sunday’s finale. Either way it is sure to be a glorious spectacle to end a glorious competition.