Dutch Delight Fans, Advance To World Cup Championship
The Netherlands has long been regarded as the best international team not to win a World Cup. Now it has a chance to put that reputation to rest for good.
The Oranje scored three goals Tuesday to edge Uruguay 3-2 and secure a place in the championship game against either Spain or Germany on Sunday. The win marks Holland's first finals appearance in over 30 years -- they previously lost to Argentina 3-1 in 1978.
The Dutch entered the game as favorites, but it was hardly an easy victory for Wesley Sneijder and Co. Undermanned Uruguay put up a terrific fight, battling back from 1-0 and 3-1 deficits to give the crowd at Green Point Stadium a thrilling finish.
Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst opened the Netherlands' account in the 18th minute with a scorching shot from 40 yards. The 35-year-old defender received a pass on the left side of the field and finished with a vengeance when the Uruguayan defense left him uncovered. It was just his sixth international goal in 106 appearances.
Van Bronckhorst's shot was so powerful and so well-placed that it was instantly regarded as one of the tournament's best goals.
Not to be outdone, Uruguay captain Diego Forlan responded with an outside strike of his own in the 41st minute. Forlan's goal, his fourth of the tournament and third from outside the box, lacked the power of van Bronckhorst's missile shot, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Forlan outmaneuvered two Dutch defenders just outside the box before releasing a perfect strike that floated just past the fingertips of outstretched keeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Forlan celebrated in typical style, showing off his Pantene Pro-V style locks as he ran to the sideline. Against all odds, Uruguay had the momentum heading into halftime.
La Celeste was unable to maintain their edge in the second half, though.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk introduced key substitute Rafael van der Vaart into the midfield and it was all downhill from there for the Netherlands.
Van der Vaart operated well in the midfield, spreading the Dutch attack and allowing for goals from Sneijder and Arjen Robben in the 70th and 73rd minutes respectively.
Sneijder's goal was the little brother of his cross that found the net against Brazil -- I swear, he keeps getting luckier and luckier every time. This time it was a rolled ball toward Robin van Persie in the middle of the box that somehow found its way past Fernando Muslera and tucked itself nicely into the far netting.
Van Persie, who was in an offside position, appeared at first to touch the ball, which would have created grounds for a whistle. On review, it was clear that van Persie did not touch the ball, but I'd still say he was offsides since he directly affected the play. The ball came to his feet and he deliberately attempted to play it, altering the way the goalkeeper moved toward the ball. That, to me, constitutes grounds for offsides.
Either way, the Netherlands went up 2-1 and Sneijder had his fifth goal of the tournament, tying him with David Villa for Golden Boot honors.
Three minutes later, Robben scored his second goal of the tournament on a brilliant, if uncharacteristic, header -- Robben is typically not a good finisher with his head. The cross came from Dirk Kuyt, who recorded his second assist of the tournament.
After that, the game went back and forth with the Dutch supplying a number of dangerous opportunities for Robben and Co., but none of them found a home in the net.
It appeared the Netherlands had the game in hand when all of the sudden Uruguay mounted one final surge. They began peppering the goal with shots and crosses, resulting in the fifth goal of the game, a left-footed shot from Maxi Pereira, in the second minute of added time.
The Uruguayans quickly retrieved the ball and moved it again into Dutch territory for a final attack, but it was to no avail. The 3-2 decision ultimately held, giving Holland another crack at World Cup gold and relegating Uruguay to the consolation game.
Tune in tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. ET to see who will meet the Netherlands in the championship game.
My money is on Germany.
To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.