By Kier Lymn
The Netherlands were finally allowed to show their true ability, coming from a goal down to beat five times World Champions Brazil 2-1 in a feisty quarter final in Port Elizabeth. The quality of their previous opponents cast doubt over the Dutch’s ability to beat the world’s best sides, but today was a day where they proved their true credentials.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Brazil started the brighter and got their passing game going straight away. The Dutch defence saw Mathijsen unexpectedly replaced by Andre Ooijer alongside Heijtinga and it was this defence that was torn open like a knife through butter on ten minutes. Felipe Melo passed from his own half though a gap you could have driven a jet plane through and Robinho swept home past Steckelenberg. Brazil had taken an early lead and from here you could only see it getting worse for the Oranje. Again, the Dutch needed something to happen to get them playing with any real urgency and conceding so early was probably a positive step for them. Kuyt went close with a near post effort, fielded well by the ever reliable Julio Cesar before Robin Van Persie lashed a free kick high over the bar. Brazil then had a great chance to double the lead, a good ball into the crowded box was met by Juan who produced a defenders finish which left the Dutch thanking god it hadn’t fell to the likes of Fabiano.
On the half hour Robinho engineered another great chance for Brazil, weaving in and out of the Dutch defence before releasing Kaka who forced an impressive stop out of Steckelenberg who tipped his top corner effort just around the post. The two sets of players were still trying to make this ‘Jabulani’ ball dance to their music, launching ambitious free kicks from range which did not quite move enough to score. Sneijder was the latest to try his luck but his shot was rather limp asking Julio Cesar questions he can answer in his sleep. Robben, tricky as always had a brilliant chance to test Cesar’s resolve with his curling strikes but looked to take too long over it and was closed down instantaneously.
At the half, Brazil still led by a single goal, but the Netherlands were very much still in the game. Despite leading, Brazil looked frustrated by their own inability to extend the lead. No fewer than eleven players between the two sides were playing on a yellow card meaning another one would see them miss the next match. This fact did nothing to deter the players from committing to crunching 50/50 challenges and handbags in the box. Lucio continued to go down like he was shot whenever his thigh was tickled and so did Robben. The second half looked to continue in the same vein.
Bert Van Marwijk’s charges looked to have been inspired at the interval and began the second half well. Positive play going forward culminated in a hopeful cross by Sneijder on 53 minutes which to everybody’s surprise found its way in. A bemused looking Sneijder showed his joy into the lens of the camera and the Dutch were level. Closer inspection revealed Sneijder’s cross had gone in off the head of Felipe Melo, the deflection taking the ball cleanly off the punch of Julio Cesar. Despite doing very little so far in the half, the momentum was now with the Oranje and they continued to press. Brazil now looked like they doubted their own ability, misplacing pass after pass to Orange shirts.
Both sides were still giving away silly free kicks and a slight tug on Robinho made sure Nigel De Jong would miss the semi final should the Dutch progress. With twentyish minutes to go the game took its most significant twist. The Netherlands won two corners on that right hand side and the second was much more effective than the first. Kuyt flicked on superbly onto the head of a surprised Sneijder who directed his header into the top left hand corner past the helpless Cesar. The momentum and pressure the Oranje had built up since their first goal had now put them into the lead and on the verge of the semi final.
Rather than sparking the Brazilians into action, the second Dutch goal seemed to frustrate them and yet more petulant fouls were conceded. The nature of Felipe Melo’s foul on Arjen Robben in the 73rd minute was more violent than petulant; the tough tackling midfielder received a straight red card for his hack, flick then full on stamp on the Dutch winger. This summed up Brazil’s game. Wild free kicks and less than meaningful attacks by the Dutch knock a few more minutes for them.
In the last ten minutes, Brazil finally show signs of urgency as well as desperation. Kaka is one of a few players to shoot loosely at goal and test Steckelenberg. After this the team that has won more world titles than any other looks to have run out of ideas. Indeed in the last minute of the game they could have conceded a third as Huntelaar finds himself clear with two men in support. He takes way too long to make his decision however and Lucio clears. Moments later the final whistle has blown and Bert Van Marwijk’s men can look forward to a semi final showdown with Uruguay or Ghana.
The slightly unconvincing results in the group stages against Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon and the round of 16 win against Slovakia left people questioning whether they had enough to go all the way. Hopefully coming from a goal down to beat the most successful side in the history of international football will have answered those doubters.