Bouhlarouz Heitinga Mathijsen Van Bronckhorst
Van Bommel de Zeeuw
Robben Sneijder Kuyt
MPereira Godin Victorino Caceres
Perez Gargano Arevalo APereira
van Bronckhorst 18'
Yet another match with a heavy dose of refeereeing controversy. And a bit of late drama just to stay true to form.
The first half ebbed and flowed, with both sides scoring when in the ascendency, but both were long-range strikes with a bit of fortune about them. Stekelenburg got his positioning wrong on Forlan's swerving equalizer, while I'd bet Gio van Bronckhorst couldn't replicate his firecracker on a bet.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Holland being favorites, a level scoreline adequately reflected the match at halftime. The Netherlands were on top early on, with some lovely interplay between the front four and chances for Kuyt and Sneijder, before van Bronckhorst's brilliant 30-yard strike from outside the left corner of the box. It's definitely up there for goal of the tournament.
But the Dutch began sitting deeper, undoubtedly aided by Uruguay resiliently fighting back, and the tide turned around the half-hour mark, soon after handbags between the sides when Caceres clocked de Zeeuw in the chin dangerously attempting a bicycle kick. Alvaro Pereira tested Sketelenburg with a low bouncer and Forlan headed high and wide before the Netherlands defense backed off the Atletico striker in the 41st minute, giving him the space to rocket yet another swinging shot into the net, aided by Sketelenburg initially stepping the wrong way. It was a nice bit of similarity that both goals came from the captains.
Ostensibly reverting to Holland's "usual" emphasis on attack after halftime, van Marwijk sent on van der Vaart for de Zeeuw – an attacking midfielder for a holding midfielder. But as Honigstein reminded in his brilliant column yesterday, it wasn't out-of-character for this Dutch side; Holland made a similar substitution at Euro 2008, bringing on Robben for Engelaar. To quote directly from the piece:
"We gave ourselves space to go forward [on the counter] that way," Van Basten said. This was, in other words, not about simplistic labels like attack or defense, and certainly not about Cruyff's old concepts.It took about 15 minutes for van der Vaart and Holland to find their feet, with Uruguay packing the center of the pitch brilliantly (and before which van Bronckhorst had to clear off the line following Bouhlarouz's sloppy backpass), but Clockwork Orange were back ahead 10 minutes after regaining the momentum. Pity it came from yet another arguable decision, if not egregious error, from a linesman.
After a sustained build-up, van Persie laid the ball off to his left, with Kuyt leaving it for Sneijder. The perpetual dangerman danced into space, seeing his shot deflected past Muslera. The only problem was van Persie standing in the keeper's line of vision, and although he got out of the way of the ball, probably should have been ruled active and offside, just behind the last defender. It was a lot closer than Tevez's first against Mexico, but it's still generously labeled as dubious at best.
And it knocked the wind out of Uruguay, with Holland seemingly hammering the nail in the coffin three minutes later. Kuyt, taking advantage of space out wide, cut back onto his preferred foot and sent in a perfect cross for Robben – slightly behind the attacker, allowing the Munich man to free himself from his marker. Still, it was a colossal header from the winger, redirecting it with a ton of power off the inside of the far post.
That should have been game over, and until the dying minutes, it looked like it was. Holland delivered a masterclass in keeping possession – the highest compliment I can pay is that it looked like Spain with a lead – only they couldn't find a fourth despite having chances on the break. But Uruguay forced a furious end to the game, coincidentally (I'm sure) after Elia replaced Robben in the 89th minute. Holland – van Bommel, obviously – conceded a late free kick, Elia gave Maxi Pereira too much space when it was played short to him, and the fullback curled a low shot into the far corner. Three minutes of injury time soon became five, but, thankfully, the Dutch finally held on by the fingernails. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the last last-ditch clearing tackle in the box came from Kuyt.
Well played to the Dutch – making their first World Cup final since 1978 – to ensure an all-European affair (outside of Europe, I might add), but it seems necessary to start the kudos with Uruguay. No one expected them to be here. As painful as it is to admit, Forlan's has a shout at being the player of the tournament, up there with Schweinsteiger, Villa, and Sneijder (and Kuyt!). They – well, Forlan – once again came back from a deficit, and truly frightened at the end. The central midfield conceded little space, and a makeshift rearguard – including Barcelona outcast Caceres up against Robben – was outstanding despite conceding thrice.
But yet again, Holland win fortunately and ugly, with some superlative individual performances. Both Robben and Sneijder scored, Kuyt got another assist and ran his socks off. Yet again – outside of Mathijsen fooled by Forlan with poor positioning from Stekelenburg on the same play, and Elia going to sleep on a late free kick – the defense outplayed their reputations.
Holland has been both lucky and good, and that's what wins tournaments. They certainly deserve to be playing on Sunday.