Holland 3 Uruguay 2
Holland: Stekelenburg; Boulahrouz, Heitinga Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst; van Bommel, de Zeeuw (van der Vaart 46); Robben (Elia 90), Sneijder, Kuyt; van Persie
Uruguay: Muslera; M. Pereira, Victorino, Godin, Caceres; Perez, Arevalo, Gargano, A. Pereira (Abreu 78); Cavani, Forlan (S. Fernandez 84)
Holland edged a tight encounter against Uruguay in Cape Town last night, their greater willingness to get forward and take the game by the scruff of the neck ultimately being reflected in the score line. The Dutch now advance to their first World Cup final since 1978 and, depending on the outcome of the second semi-final, could have the chance to lay to rest the ghosts of 1974 against Germany.
The first half was relatively cagey as both sides tried to get the measure of one another, the games early battles being fought in amongst what was a tightly congested midfield.
Bert van Marwijk set his team out in a 4-2-3-1, playing two defensive midfielders in the shape of Mark van Bommel and Demy de Zeeuw, a ploy that hamstrung their imagination in possession to a certain extent and didn’t fully exploit the potential weaknesses of a Uruguayan back four that was missing two of its regular members.
As a result, and despite the collective attacking talents of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, the Dutch struggled to create much going forward, Uruguay pressing high up the field to good effect in a system that resembled a shallow 4-4-2 diamond.
The lack of creativity from both sides in advanced areas of the field was reflected in the two goals the first half produced, both long-range efforts from Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Diego Forlan respectively, with Forlan’s shot being given a helping hand into the net by Maarten Stekelenburg.
However, a Dutch change at half-time – the introduction of Rafael van der Vaart for de Zeeuw – gave the Oranje an added impetus and helped the team to convert their dominance of possession into a greater number of chances and, eventually, goals.
van der Vaart’s presence gave Holland a greater cohesion between the midfield and the attack, his running from deep also providing an extra body in attack, something which stretched a Uruguayan defence which had looked comfortable during the first 45 minutes.
Although the Dutch left themselves prone to the La Celeste counter-attack, van Marwijk’s team regularly had a man free when they attacked themselves, something in evidence in both their second and third goals. Sneijder was left unmarked to fire home to restore the Dutch lead after 70 minutes, with Dirk Kuyt unchallenged to create width on the left side, crossing for Robben to head beyond Muslera just three minutes later.
Uruguay looked the more dangerous side in the latter stages, piling on the pressure in the last ten minutes and pulling a goal back through Maxi Pereira in injury time, but it all came a little too late for Oscar Tabarez’s side who bow out but should take great pride in their performances during this tournament.
Holland progress to the final and, despite perhaps not having played their best football thus far, have shown that they are more than capable of out-thinking opponents and finding ways to win games even if they are not fully in the ascendancy. They may not have played to their full capacity yet, but champions traditionally grow into tournaments and, if van Marwijk can prepare his team throughly for Sunday’s showpiece, there is not reason why the Netherlands can’t be crowned World Champions in Johannesburg in four days time.