[NETHERLANDS-SLOVAKIA] Arjen Robben scored in his first World Cup start for the Netherlands, which dominated most of its game with Slovakia but needed a late goal to seal its 2-1 victory.
What we liked ...
-- Arjen Robben, 23 days after suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games and limited him to 17 minutes as a sub in the final group game, scorched Slovakia several times during his 70 minutes of action. His raiding runs on the right opened up the Slovakian defense, which failed to anticipate cuts inside onto his preferred left foot.
Robben scored in the 18th minute when Wesley Sneijder hit a long diagonal that triggered a two-v-three break, and as Robin Van Persie looped outside him, Robben veered inside and hit a low shot past keeper Jan Mucha and inside the post. He did the same five minutes into the second half and hit a hard, low shot that Mucha stretched to flick aside.
-- Dutch goalkeeper Martin Steklenburg didn’t have much to do for the first three-quarters of the match, yet stymied a brief Slovakian rally with excellent saves on Miroslav Stoch and Robert Vittek. The keeper committed a foul in stoppage time that yielded a penalty kick by which Slovakia got a consolation goal.
Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt complemented Robben’s raids by tough, intelligent work in the middle and attacking thirds. Kuyt dominated the left flank, and set up Sneijder for the clinching second goal by collection a long free kick from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, evading Mucha, and squaring it for Sneijder to bang home.
What we didn't like ...
-- The center of the Dutch defense cracked a few times and gave Slovakia clean looks at goal that saves by Steklenburg solved. Central midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel were very strong in the middle of the park but they weren’t in sync with defenders Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga when Slovakia poured players into the goalmouth.
After stunning Italy with a confident, brazen approach, Slovakia played a cautious, conservative game and didn’t revive its attack until the second half. Stoch seldom created problems on the left side and Vladimir Weiss sputtered on the right. Not until Sneijder scored the second Dutch goal in the 84th minute did Coach Weiss Sr. bring on his last two subs.
-- A Dutch World Cup camp roiled by controversy would be business as usual, but so far all has been calm. Van Persie, though, pouted a few times when not played the ball, and he glared angrily and expressed his disfavor on the sideline when replaced by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.