It is a long-established truth that the best games of any World Cup are semi-final games. By the time they reach semi-finals, teams usually gel into a great organism and are ready to produce the best games of their footballing lives. Not this time, though. Cape Town’s Green Point stadium saw a team of cautious Dutch players meet a wounded team of Uruguayans that was lacking some of their best players. The result was a game that was decidedly not pretty; and yet, the tension in the air was so palpable that the emotions alone were worth watching it for.
Even before the game, there was an air of inevitability in the air: the Dutch were simply too strong, with all their major stars ready to play, while Uruguay was missing some of its key players in captain Diego Lugano, defender Jorge Fucile and, of course, Luis “hand of God” Suarez. By all accounts, it was the Dutch’s game to lose. And yet, for most of the game, reality refused to comply with preconceptions: while the Dutch did take the lead in 18th minute, via freakishly brilliant shot by their captain van Bronckhorst, it was still obvious that the Uruguayans do not have the words “surrender” and “impossible” in their vocabulary.
For most of the game, they stood their own, fighting the Dutch play-by-play, move-by-move. Forlan’s equiliser in 41st minute was equally brilliant and the game looked destined for extra time when the Dutch got what they’ve already been very blessed with this World Cup: some luck. Sneijder’s weakish shot was deflected into the goal, behind a bewildered Muslera, who didn’t really stand much chance. A few minutes later, the Uruguayans’ role in the semi-finals was reduced to being polite observers when Robben uncharacteristically and brilliantly headed Kuyt’s cross into the very corner of the goal that was most difficult to reach.
Uruguay’s second goal came way too late to hope they’d slot one more into the back of the net in the 120 seconds or so that remained of the match; nevertheless, it was fascinating TV.
The Dutch are now heading for an all-European final. Beautiful soccer theirs ain’t, but very efficient it is. They are not going to be easy to deal with in the final, their suffering opponent being Germany OR Spain.
Here are the reporter’s notes:
Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Maximiliano Pereira, Diego Godín, Mauricio Victorino, Martín Cáceres, Diego Pérez, Wálter Gargano, Egidio Arévalo, Álvaro Pereira , Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlán
The Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Khalid Boulahrouz, Johnny Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Arjen Robben, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder, Demy de Zeeuw, Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie
Before the match
Both countries made several changes for the World Cup semi-final at Green Point Stadium.
Mathijsen is back to the centre of the Dutch defence in place of Ooijer after missing the quarter-final win over Brazil with a knee injury. Right fullback Boulahrouz and midfielder de Zeeuw are in instead of van der Wiel and de Jong.
From the Uruguay side of the pitch, Lugano is missing out through injury, while Fucile and Suarez are suspended. Coach Tabarez is hoping that his forced re-organising, especially of defence, will not turn out to be a disaster.
In the first 15 minutes, the Dutch are their usual cautious selves while Uruguay miss Suarez terribly. The Uruguayan defence is very good, but the attack is a bit without teeth.
Photo: Uruguay’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera dives but fails to save the shot on goal by Netherlands’ Giovanni van Bronckhorst during their 2010 World Cup semi-final soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
Since van Bronkhorst’s goal, Uruguay more or less control the play in some sort of feeble rage, while the Dutch are mostly passive, defending carefully, waiting for their moment to engage, like Kuyt did now.
Photo: Uruguay’s Diego Forlan scores a goal during their 2010 World Cup semi-final soccer match against Netherlands at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
One has to hand it to the Uruguayans. Although without key players and facing a hostile stadium, they are still firmly in the game. Forlan must rank as the best player of the World Cup so far. As for the Dutch, they are rather subdued, and more or less the only good thing they’ve done is their captain’s goal. That’s it.
Real Madrid’s van der Vaart is replacing de Zeeuw, who is probably feeling the effects of getting a boot to the face, circa the 27th minute.
The Uruguayans appear to have learned a lesson from Brazil’s loss to the Dutch: they keep a really tight lock on Robben, but they are much more careful in not fouling him. Their defence, even when manned by second-stringers, is rather well organised.
Photo: Netherlands’ Arjen Robben (C) scores a goal during their 2010 World Cup semi-final soccer match against Uruguay at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren
The Dutch survive through two very nervous minutes, during which Van Bommel, one of the dirtiest players alive, finally gets his well-deserved yellow card. Uruguayans did their utmost best, but scoring against the Dutch in the space of 120 seconds borders on the impossible.
Main photo: Netherlands’ John Heitinga (R) celebrates with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben (L) and Dirk Kuyt (2nd L) after their 2010 World Cup semi-final soccer match against Uruguay at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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