Felipe Melo (og) 53, Sneijder 68
The Netherlands came from behind to knock 10-man Brazil out of the World Cup. An own goal from Felipe Melo and Wesley Sneijder’s header overhauled Robinho’s early opening strike, before Melo was dismissed for stamping on Arjen Robben.
Robinho gave Brazil the lead 10 minutes in from 18 yards. Melo’s through ball from the half way line left Robinho free beyond the Dutch defence and he swept home first time past Maarten Stekelenburg. Dirk Kuyt came close to an immediate reply, but Julio Cesar got down low to tip his shot round the near post after he had cut in from the left. Juan had a glorious chance to double the Brazilian advantage after 25 minutes, side footing over the bar from eight yards after Dani Alves had taken his time to square the ball from the right of the area. Alves was the creator again four minutes later when Luis Fabiano headed his freekick well over from just inside the area. Kaka came close to a superb goal after 31 minutes, his curling shot tipped round the post by Stekelenburg after a fine move involving Robinho and Fabiano. Maicon found the side netting in first half stoppage time with a first time effort from the corner of the area.
The Netherlands were level after 53 minutes thanks to an own goal from Melo. Sneijder swung a deep cross into the box and it flicked off Melo’s head as Cesar came to punch and it flew into the net. Kaka came close to restoring the Brazilian lead after 65 minutes after Andre Ooijer’s scuffed clearance sat up invitingly for him but he finished just wide from the edge of the box. It was the Dutch who went ahead three minutes later through Sneijder. Robben swung in a corner and Kuyt flicked it on at the near post for Sneijder to head home from four yards. Brazil’s job was made all the harder by Melo’s red card 17 minutes from time for stamping on Robben after he had failed to win the ball from the Dutch winger. Three corners in quick succession from Maicon almost created an equaliser for Brazil after 82 minutes, with the first seeing Lucio’s volley deflected behind. The second ball in was spilled by Stekelenburg but hacked clear by Kuyt before Gilberto Silva headed the third at the keeper. Soon after, Cesar saved from Sneijder before Kaka had an effort blocked by Ooijer straight away at the other end.
There was an element of simplicity to Brazil’s opening goal, with Melo’s pass bisecting the Dutch defence and leaving Robinho with a first time finish. Of course, it was a wonderful pass to open the Netherlands up with such ease and their coach Bert van Marwijk will be horrified at how out of shape his defenders were. Van Marwijk had had to make a late change to his backline, promoting the veteran Ooijer to the starting team after Joris Mathijsen injured himself in the warm up, but it was his centre-back partner John Heitinga who was caught horribly out of position. With the full-backs dropping with Ooijer, Heitinga stepped out, leaving space for Robinho to run into. Robinho was being tracked by the least likely defensive player in the Dutch side, Robben, and lost his man with ease before coolly finishing first time.
Both Dutch goals owed a lot to a poor defensive setup from set pieces, something that had previously been a strength of Brazil under Dunga. The first goal saw the usually impeccable Cesar jump with his own man, Melo, failing to get his fist to the ball and affecting the defender’s attempt to head clear. Cesar had to make sure he got the ball, even if it meant going right through his teammate. Brazil had looked comfortable but the goal allowed the Dutch back in, and the mistake was compounded when the Netherlands took the lead. Fabiano failed to get tight enough to Kuyt as he flicked on Robben’s corner but it was Melo and Silva who should have done much better. The Brazilian holding midfielders were stood between Sneijder and the goal and neither reacted, standing rooted to the ground to leave the Dutch midfielder with a simple header from close range.
Brazil will rue the miss from Juan midway through the first half, the centre-back being the last person in the team they would have wanted to be on the end of such a chance. Had the Brazilians been two goals to the good, it would have been hard to see a way for the Netherlands to get back into the game. The Dutch were second best throughout the first half, looking short on ideas and lacking in movement in attack. In contrast, the Brazil forward trio of Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka were interchanging and combining well. The game was becoming increasingly bitty, with regular stoppage for freekicks, but it suited the Brazilians who were happy to destroy any Dutch momentum knowing they had players capable of upping the tempo out of nothing. Once the Netherlands were back in the game in the second half, the fractious nature of the game worked against Brazil, with Melo losing his head after Michel Bastos had earlier been replaced having escaped without a second yellow card.
The Netherlands move on to the semi-finals knowing they will be the favourites against either Uruguay or Ghana. Having not reached anything like their potential so far, the Dutch still have plenty more to give and have surely passed their biggest test on the way to reaching the Final by beating Brazil. Their comeback showed a resiliency and inner strength that has often been missing for them at tournaments and they will take heart at overhauling a Brazil side that had looked extremely comfortable at the break. Neither the Uruguayans nor the Ghanaians should be taken lightly, although the South Americans will surely offer a stiffer test to the Dutch with their strike force of Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan. The Dutch need Robin van Persie and Robben to step up a gear if they are to win the trophy, but the collective confidence boost of knocking out the Brazilians can only help to raise their game.
Netherlands – Stekelenburg, Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Persie (Huntelaar 85), Robben
Brazil – Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Michel Bastos (Gilberto 62), Dani Alves, Felipe Melo, Gilberto Silva, Kaka, Luis Fabiano (Nilmar 77), Robinho