Forlan 41, Maxi Pereira 90+2
Van Bronckhorst 18, Sneijder 70, Robben 73
The Netherlands reached their first World Cup final since 1978 with victory over Uruguay in Cape Town. Goals from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were enough to send the Oranje through at the expense of the Uruguayans, for whom Diego Forlan and Maxi Pereira replied.
Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal gifted the Netherlands an early chance, punching straight to Dirk Kuyt who could only blast over from an angle three minutes in. After six minutes, Alvaro Pereira had a cheeky attempt from five yards inside the opposition half but it sailed comfortably over Maarten Stekelenburg’s crossbar. Skipper van Bronckhorst put the Dutch ahead with a goal worthy of the occasion after 18 minutes. From wide on the left, he struck a sweet 40 yard shot that sailed right into the far top corner with Muslera unable to get anything more than fingertips to the strike. Five minutes before half time, Kuyt cut in from the left and fired a low shot that Muslera saved at his near post. Uruguay were level moments later thanks to another long range strike. Forlan received the ball in space 35 yards out, cut on to his left foot and hit a swerving shot towards the centre of goal that Stekelenburg completely misread and could only help in.
Stekenlenburg was almost caught off his line five minutes after the break having had to clear Khalid Boulahrouz’s poor backpass on the edge of his area. Alvaro Pereira chipped towards the open goal from the left but van Bronckhorst got back to head clear. Forlan forced Stekelenburg into a fine save with a 67th minute freekick from 30 yards that the keeper did well to push away low down at his near post. A minute later, Muslera parried away Rafael van der Vaart’s goalbound shot and Robben put the rebound over from an angle. The Dutch were back in front with 20 minutes remaining after Robin van Persie stepped over Sneijder’s deflected shot as it found its way into the bottom corner. Robben wrapped the game up three minutes later, heading home Kuyt’s cross from 10 yards. In stoppage time, Maxi Pereira curled from the edge of the area into the bottom corner to setup a tense finale for the Dutch but it proved no more than a consolation for Uruguay.
As beautiful as van Bronckhorst’s strike undoubtedly was, the Netherlands were fortunate that the game had not been stopped seconds early for an appalling challenge by Mark van Bommel. The Dutch midfielder went over the ball and caught Walter Gargano above the knee as the ball was played square across the pitch, with referee Ravshan Irmatov seemingly assuming van Bommel had done little more than let the ball run on. Had Irmatov seen the incident more clearly, there is every chance van Bommel could have been in serious trouble with players having been sent off in the past for similar challenges. Instead of finding themselves a man down, the Netherlands were almost instantly a goal up. For the neutral, there was the enjoyable consolation that justice was replaced with a stunning goal by the veteran Dutch captain.
For large parts of the first half, Uruguay were clearly missing the suspended Luis Suarez. Of course, the Uruguayans would not have been in the semi-finals had Suarez not committed the offence that led to his absence, but that did not make it any easier for them to cope without him. Forlan was pushed higher up the pitch into the areas normally worked by Suarez, removing his freedom to create from deep. The one occasion when Forlan finally received the ball away from the frontline, he scored. Without Suarez running ahead of him, the choice was easy for Forlan to turn and shoot from distance and his swerving strike caused all sorts of problems for Stekelenburg.
There was an element of doubt over Sneijder’s goal. It was a very tight call as to whether van Persie was in an offside position when Sneijder shot, with his actions in stepping over the ball bringing up the vagaries of the offside law. How anyone could view van Persie as anything but interfering with play by moving over a shot in a central position in front of goal is unfathomable, but FIFA’s current desire for whether a touch was made or not to be the deciding factor would argue otherwise. The referee’s assistant may have just viewed van Persie as onside, but there was enough of a suspicion of offside for it to be suggested that he deemed it as not interfering with play. Robben’s goal minutes later was poorly dealt with by Uruguay, first with Kuyt being given acres of space on the left to pick his cross, then with the marking on Robben. Martin Caceres was rooted to the spot and Diego Godin did not get tight enough in challenging Robben, leaving the Dutch winger with an easy header.
The Netherlands will now contest their first World Cup final for 32 years, aiming to win the trophy for the first time having twice been runners-up. It will be an all European affair, with Germany and Spain meeting tomorrow night to decide their opponents. After six straight wins, it is still hard to be particularly impressed by this Dutch team but few can argue that a team can get to a final without some substance. The path taken by the Netherlands so far has not been as difficult as it perhaps could have been, with their toughest opponents Brazil capitulating in the quarter-finals. Yet the Brazilians do not implode without coming under severe pressure and it would be unfair to Bert van Marwijk’s team to suggest it was a Brazil defeat rather than a Dutch victory. What it is fair to say is the Netherlands must raise their game against either the Germans or the Spanish as both sides have the attacking players to punish a lacklustre showing.
Uruguay – Muslera, Godin, Victorino, Pereira, Caceres, Gargano, Pereira (Abreu, 78), Perez, Arevalo Rios, Cavani, Forlan (c) (S. Fernandez, 84)
Netherlands – Stekelenburg, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst (c), Boulahrouz, Van Bommel, Sneijder, De Zeeuw (Van der Vaart, 46), Kuyt, Van Persie, Robben (Elia, 90)