With their 3-2 victory over Uruguay, Clockwork Oranje are heading back to the World Cup Finals for the first time since their nation’s soccer golden age. This time, they hope, they will come home as world champions.
While Holland was far from dominant against La Celeste, South America’s remaining hope for the title, its victory was surely a deserved one as their best players rose to the occasion of the largest match of their careers — until Sunday.
Without striker Luis Suarez, suspended for his controversial yet heroic red card incurred in the final seconds of the Uruguay-Ghana match, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was forced to abandon the aggressive and wing-heavy 4-3-3 formation in favor of the more conservative 4-4-2. Holland may not have been able to dominate offensively, but Uruguay’s tactical shift afforded them nearly no scoring chances of their own.
After relatively even play in the opening minutes of the match, Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, retiring after the World Cup to become a coach, let rip what may have been the goal of the tournament. His strike from 42 yards out hit the inside portion of the far post and ricocheted into the net. Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera never had a chance.
Uruguay stayed calm after going behind, refusing to commit its players too far forward as many teams have done when on the wrong side of the scoreline during the tournament. Eventually, this discipline worked to their benefit, as Uruguay captain Diego Forlan connected on his own strike from distance four minutes before half time. The shot, though, was directly down the center of the goal frame, and Holland keeper Maarten Stekelenburg was at least partially at fault.
At half time, Holland coach Bert van Marwijk substituted defensive midfielder Demy de Zeeuw, the replacement for the suspended Nigel de Jong, for attacking midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.
Uruguay showed flurries of momentum early in the second half, but without Suarez, Forlan was forced to play as a pure striker, as opposed to his normal role as a playmaker between the midfield and striker. As a result, Uruguay struggled to get the ball near the goal, and its best chances came on free kicks. Forlan, perhaps the only player who has truly mastered the “Jabulani” at the World Cup, bent two shots past the Dutch wall, but both were saved by Stekelenburg.
Eventually, the Flying Dutchmen proved to be too much for Uruguay, as the attacking quartet of Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie created chance after chance as the half progressed.
Without normal captain and defensive centerpiece Diego Lugano, injured against Ghana, and usual back line starter Jorge Fucile, the Uruguayans were simply outclassed by the Dutch.
In the 70th minute, Robben ran the ball up the right side and combined with van der Vaart, Sneijder and van Persie with typically precise Dutch passing. Van Persie attempted to shoot, but mishit the ball, which then deflected off of a Uruguayan defender before Sneijder flicked it into the back of the net.
Sneijder initially appeared to have been in an offside position, but for once, replay proved that the referee got the call right. Just moments later, with Uruguay now desperately throwing their players forward, the Dutch Masters struck again, as Kuyt served a perfect cross to Robben, who put it into the corner of the goal.
Up 3-1, celebration began throughout the Nertherlands. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima of Holland, both on hand for the match, even began to party.
The final 20 minutes of the match saw Uruguay throwing all of its players toward the Dutch net, and Holland repeatedly had chances to make the score 4-1 or even 5-1. The celebration, though, may have started slightly too soon, as Maxi Perreira of Uruguay cut the margin to 3-2 in the 92nd minute while many of the Oranje were already taking in the victory.
But Uruguay’s last ditch efforts could not provide a second miracle finish.
Holland will face either Germany or Spain in the final in Soccer City, Johannesburg on Sunday.
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