The Netherlands will face either Spain or Germany in the Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after beating Uruguay by the odd goal in five in the first of the tournament’s semi-finals at Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium. Bert van Marwijk’s side were worthy of their victory but were made to work hard for it in an eventful last four encounter punctuated by excellent goals from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Maximiliano Pereira.
Having gone into this match on a record 24-match unbeaten streak, the Dutch started as favourites, and it was a tag they would justify during an entertaining first half. Van Marwijk’s side certainly began in positive fashion, with Robben darting beyond his marker at the first opportunity inside four minutes. Sneijder profited from his former Real Madrid team-mate’s dynamism, curling in a right-foot cross that, following an unconvincing punch from Fernando Muslera, was hurriedly controlled and volleyed just over by the lively Dirk Kuyt.
It was an early moment of concern for La Celeste, but they recovered admirably and, with the pace of the game dropping, looked to be comfortably holding the Oranje at bay. With the Dutch threat minimal, the Uruguayan defenders would have been forgiven for not sensing any immediate danger when Van Bronckhorst picked up the ball over 30 yards from goal, close to the left touchline. Yet it was from this seemingly unthreatening position that the Dutch captain unleashed a stunning left-foot shot that Muslera, despite applying a despairing touch, could only divert into the top corner via the inside of the post.
It was a magnificent strike, a cast-iron contender for goal of the tournament, and it gave the Netherlands an advantage they continued to prove worthy of as the half progressed. However, the Dutch were not the only team capable of conjuring a goal out of nothing, with Forlan providing an equally unexpected equaliser four minutes before the break.
Uruguay’s captain for the night had hitherto been relatively subdued, but the Dutch defence made the mistake of affording him too much space 25 yards from goal – and were ruthlessly punished. Shaping to spread the ball wide, Forlan instead turned inside on his left foot and curled in a superb left-foot shot that, thanks partly to a slight deflection off the head of John Heitinga, deceived the wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg.
Uruguay started the second half with something to build on, therefore, and they looked the more threatening of the two sides early on, with Van Bronckhorst forced to head off the line from a Pereira effort and Stekelenburg parrying clear a goal-bound Forlan free-kick.
The Dutch were unruffled, however, and their patient probing at the other end almost paid dividends when Robin van Persie’s intelligent reverse pass teed up substitute Rafael van der Vaart for a shot from the left-hand edge of the box. With the strike accurate and firmly struck, Muslera could only parry clear, but Robben proved unable to gobble up the rebound, blazing over from an acute angle.
Denied on this occasion, the Dutch moved in front a couple of minutes later, as Sneijder scored his fifth goal of the tournament, again benefiting from a telling deflection, this time off the thigh of Pereira, that sent his 20-yard shot spinning past Muslera. Uruguay needed a response, and quickly, but with 17 minutes remaining their hopes were all but ended when Robben doubled the Netherlands’ advantage.
A terrific goal it was too, with the Dutch winger sneaking in unnoticed to bullet a textbook header in off the base of the left-hand post from a measured Kuyt cross. Pereira did score an equally excellent consolation, converting expertly with a curling left-foot shot from a quickly-taken free-kick, but this injury-time effort was to prove too little, too late for the last of the non-European representatives.