On Monday, Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium saw wind, rain and another workmen-like victory by the Dutch steamroller. Pity they are still playing soccer as boring as it gets. The match ended The Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1.
Yes, the Dutch qualified for the quarter finals of the World Cup without breaking much sweat and, yes, their squad is injury-free and not overly bothered by suspensions. But, at the same time, they are playing the type of soccer that makes their opposing teams want to fall asleep and the audience has to practice the Mexican wave in order to avoid numbness.
Playing like they’ve played this year, the Dutch have a good chance of going far down the line. But in their quest for the prize, they will sacrifice the soul of the soccer. It wasn’t always like this: the Johan Cruyff-led generation of 1974 played the most beautiful game in the world, they even invented the concept of “total football” to explain what Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch national teams were doing to their opponents. They eventually lost in the 1974 finals against the Germany, but who cares? They stayed in the hearts and minds of every true believer all over the world.
The 1988 generation, the one with Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard, finally won the European title but still never won much at the World scene, and yet everyone remembers the magic. Gullit’s gazelle-like pace and van Basten’s goals were objects of art and beauty.
Compared to those god-like examples of the Dutch school of soccer beauty, today’s generation looks more like a multinational corporation, whose only goal is to deliver a couple more percentage points to their shareholders. The beauty is gone, replaced by the deity of a new type: results. The orange drones play the game with minds and super-computers, but they play it without hearts. The resistance against them may be futile, but this soccer heart will not be assimilated.
Here are the reporter’s notes.
The Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Persie, Robben
Slovakia: Mucha, Pekarik, Skrtel, Zabavnik, Weiss, Stoch, Durica, Hamsik, Kucka, Vittek, Jendrisek
Man of the match
For the first couple of minutes, the mood is exploratory, with no side in a rush to attack madly. Slovakia look composed, while the Dutch are their usual, serious workers.
- 7th minute: Van Persie’s shot is deflected at the last moment. The Dutch are starting to bare their teeth.
- 11th minute: Sneijder’s shot from the left side of the penalty box is not up to his usual standards, to put it diplomatically.
- 14th minute: Kucka’s shot from 30 metres is low and wayward. Disappointing.
- 18th minute: Robben scores! It was a typical Robben goal, the one where he picks up the ball around 40 metres from the goal, then disregards the existence of anyone else, friend or foe, and then stabs a low, powerful shot from 18 metres or so past the desperately lunging keeper. The Dutch lead 1-0.
Photo: Netherlands’ Arjen Robben (2nd R) shoots to score against Slovakia during their 2010 World Cup second round soccer match at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 28, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren
Now we’ll see what Slovakia are made of.
- 31st minute: Robben gets the first yellow card of the match.
You have probably wondered why there are no comments in-between Robben’s goal and his yellow card. Well, it is simple: NOTHING happened. Just the Dutch playing their mind-numbing positional game.
- 40th minute: Hooray, something just happened! Kucka got his first yellow card for attempting to assassinate his opponents, while both teams are trying to assassinate the entire football-watching world.
- 41st minute: Van Persie’s shot is on target, but is also profoundly pathetic and is easily stopped by the Slovakian keeper.
- 44th minute: After a great pass by Robben, van Bommel crosses into the box, only for the cross to be wasted by van Persie’s wayward attempt.
- 50th minute: Robben’s great shot, very similar to the one that put the Dutch into the lead is stopped by Mucha’s great save.
- 51st minute: The Slovakian keeper saves a sitter by van Bommel that was brilliantly set up by Robben. Slovakian keeper Mucha and Robben are the best players of the game so far, by far.
- 66th minute: Stok’s great shot is saved by Maarten Stekelenburg. Great save!
- 67th minute: Vittek’s free kick from 12 metres is miraculously saved by Stekelenburg.
Are the Dutch losing their grip on this tightly-controlled, mostly eventless game? The Slovakians are fighting for their lives and they are finally finding holes in the Dutch defence.
- 70th minute: A free header for Dirk Kuyt, who misses the bar by a metre or two. He claims he was impeded, but the referee doesn’t care a lot for it.
- 72nd minute: The Slovakians are sending more players into Dutch territory now. Expect some orange counter-attacks.
- 73rd minute: Kuyt’s strong shot from 28 metres is well saved by the Slovakian keeper, Mucha.
- 78th minute: Vittek’s 13 metre shot goes toward the skies. He wasn’t even bothered by the Dutch players.
- 84th minute: Sneijder scores! And a good thing he did, because Kuyt has served him such a good pass that even an amateur would score, never mind the player who’s an engine of European champions, Inter. For their sins, the Slovakians failed to defend because they were too busy fighting the referee over his previous decision to award the free kick to the Dutch. The score: 2-0 to The Netherlands.
- 86th minute: Elia’s shot is from a promising situation but is executed meekly.
- 92nd minute: Afellay’s shot has Mucha fly into the corner, but it misses the post by 30cm or so.
- 94th minute: Penalty for Slovakia as Stekelenburg brings down Jakubko.
- 95th minute: Vittek scores his fourth goal of the tournament.
The end. The Netherlands has won against Slovakia 2-1.
By Branko Brkic
Photo: Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder (C) celebrates with team mates after scoring against Slovakia during their 2010 World Cup second round soccer match against Slovakia at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 28, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren