The first of the semi-finals was a fairly tepid affair, strange considering that there were two stunning long-range finishes, a controversial goal and a surprising strike from Arjen Robben. All topped off with a very nervy end to the game.
Holland started brightly, with Dirk Kuyt being gifted an opportunity by the Uruguay ‘keeper, Fernando Muslera, in just three minutes, as he fumbled a harmless cross. Kuyt, however, blazed his shot over the bar.
Uruguay struggled to handle the Dutch crosses into the area early on, a frailty that Kuyt and Arjen Robben were all too happy to exploit.
But it was the sublime strike from Giovanni Van Bronckhorst with 18 minutes gone that will be remembered. He received the ball 40 yards from goal towards his familiar left-wing. After a quick look up, he laced it with power and precision into the distant top corner. Calls for goal of the tournament quickly flooded the social networks and the Dutch men were flying (sorry, I couldn’t help it).
Sadly, after that the pace of the game dropped as the Netherlands defended resolutely while Uruguay tried to gain a foothold in the match. Much of the Uruguayan possession though was harmless and was just plain sloppy in the final third.
Then up stepped Diego Forlan. The prolific Uruguay and Athletico striker jinked around inside the Dutch half before striding forward to unleash a strike with his wondrous left-foot that wavered in the air. Maarten Stekelenburg could only get a helpless hand to the ball before it nestled in the net.
Little else happened in the first half but the game remained open, giving the impression that more goals were to come in the second half.
After much ITV nonsense, we were back underway. Holland brought Rafael Van Der Vaart on during the break – the Real Madrid man replacing Demy De Zeeuw who took a nasty kick to the face in the first half.
The game sprung into live following a slow restart when a mix up in the Dutch defence saw Stekelenburg race off of his line needlessly. Following a poor tackle by the ‘keeper on Edinson Cavani the ball found its way to Alvaro Pereira, whose lobbed effort was cleared behind with ease by Van Bronckhorst.
The Dutch then huffed and puffed at the Uruguay defence but were unable to come up with an incisive move. Their defence continued to look shaky and leaky – not a good combination – and Uruguay appeared to be the more likely to score early on.
Then Holland began to show glimpses of that devastating counter-attack we were all treated to two years ago when, at Euro 2008, they continued their trend of being the best team to not win the tournament. But Uruguay got wise. La Celeste soon recovered from their excitement and reverted to the defensive football that, while being typical for them, still looks strange coming from a South American team.
Heavy pressure from Holland ensued but to no avail and Uruguay responded by playing a bit of keep-ball to reassure themselves that they deserved to be in the semi-final.
Another dirty challenge from the increasingly unpopular Marc Van Bommell allowed Forlan to display his almost unique grasp of the Jubilani ball, forcing a save low and to the right from Stekelenburg.
At the other end, the first clear chance of the second half finally arrived on the 68th minute. A neat interchange gave Van Der Vaart a point-blank opportunity that, following a good save from Muslera, fell kindly to Robben, Only for him to blaze over and show why Forlan’s gift is just that.
Then controversy turned the game – something that has dominated this World Cup.
A tame effort from Sneijder on the edge of the Uruguay box deflected off of two defenders, past (the fractionally offside) Robin Van Persie and Muslera, and into the bottom right corner. But it was Van Persie’s failed attempt to redirect the ball that made him an active and illegal participant in the goal. So, Uruguay undeservedly behind, but justice may have been served for Luis Suarez’s ‘save’ against Ghana.
A rare but well-taken headed goal from Arjen Robben added to Uruguay’s misery on the 73rd minute. A great cross from Dirk Kuyt was powered into the bottom left corner by Robben with all the prowess of a natural-born centre-forward.
The two-goal advantage gave the Dutch some breathing space to play the football we always expect from them, with Sneijder and Robben linking up particularly well on several occasions. Khalid Boulahrouz’s one-man-band defending only made this easier.
Sebastian Fernandez became the metaphorical towel as he was thrown in to the game in place of Uruguay’s talisman, Forlan. A poor effort from Robben and shoddy passes in the Uruguay area prevented Holland from making the score 4-1, but the game was fizzling out. Tomorrow night and Germany’s footballing delights could not come soon enough.
Then, on the 91st minute, the Uruguay right-back, Maxi Pereira, managed to make stoppage time more exciting than any other time in the game by slotting home a neat left-footed curler from the edge of the Dutch area. Uruguay commenced flooding Holland’s area with men and battered it with long passes from the back. One kind bounce could have popped the ball up for an opportunistic Uruguayan, bringing about an amazing end to normal time.
But it wasn’t to be.
The Netherlands go through to the World Cup final and guarantee that the trophy will return to Europe – the first time it has ever been won by a European side when the World Cup has been hosted outside of Europe.
It’s coming home…