[NETHERLANDS-URUGUAY] The Netherlands, losers of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups to the host nations, secured a return to the final by outlasting an undermanned yet very game Uruguay, 3-2, in Cape Town Tuesday.
What we liked ...
-- Goals by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were all exquisite finishes. Van Brockhorst nailed an unstoppable, 35-yard screamer from the left flank that nicked the inside of the post just inches under the crossbar. Sneijder called for the ball and pen etrated the penalty area to drill a low shot that glanced off Maxi Pereira and snuck in off the post. Robben peeled away from his marker to meet a Dirk Kuyt cross that he snapped down and in, again off the base of the post.
-- Uruguay didn’t resort to the underhanded elements underdog teams often do in a knockout match: fouling and diving at every opportunity, waving fingers in opponent’s faces and imaginary cards at the referee, kicking the ball away from an opponent’s free kick, etc. Instead, they adjusted to the absence of several starters while maintaining a polished, shrewd game plan.
-- The absence of regular partner Luis Suarez required Edinson Cavani to play with Diego Forlan, who normally sits in behind the front two, and Cavani overcame some of his technical shortcomings through determination and guile to cause the Dutch problems. Alvaro Pereira worked hard to add impetus on the left side, and Maxi Pereira added what he could from the right-back slot. The defense, missing captain Diego Lugano, did a reasonable job thwarting the Dutch until their class and quality turned the match around midway through the second half.
-- The Netherlands, burdened with their own history of histrionics and meltdowns, also forged through some tough intervals more or less resolutely. When Uruguay equalized with a brilliant shot by Forlan, rather than disintegrating as Brazil had done when tied by the Dutch in the quarterfinals, they rode out the six remaining minutes until halftime, when Coach Bert Van Marwijk replaced Demy De Zeeuw with the more offensive Rafael Van der Vaart.
-- The beaming, prideful smile of Ruud Gullit enjoying his nation’s finest hour since he helped it with the European Championship in 1988. Not seen in the USA since his disgraceful exit from the Galaxy, which two years ago nearly sank the ship by hiring him as head coach, Gullit tempered his obvious joy yet spoke from the heart while watching scenes from the Museumplein in Amsterdam, where an enormous crowd celebrated deliriously as the Oranje broke a 1-1 tie and went on to win.
-- Four times – with Chelsea, Newcastle, Ajax, Los Angeles – Gullit has run aground as a coach, yet he was one of the finest players of his generation and his previous TV experience helps him come across. He’s far from perfect in his use of expressions and syntax but he’s usually got something to say.
What we didn't like ...
-- Another offside controversy arose on the second Dutch goal. Sneijder, on the left side of the penalty area, hit a low, deflected shot that Robin Van Persie let pass by him on its way into the net. Replays showed Van Persie to be barely offside, by literally one foot, as he moved his feet but didn’t touch the ball.
Because officials do not explain their rulings, we’re not sure if the referee’s assistant deemed Van Persie to be not offside, or that even though he was in the line of the ball’s path to goal he didn’t distract the goalkeeper or influence the play while in an offside position.
A subtle facet of this play was that the referee’s assistant was not in line with Van Persie and the last defender, but was several yards closer to the midfield line. From this vantage point, Van Persie – even with one foot extended slightly beyond that of the last defender – would have appeared to be not offside, and thus whether he touched the ball or distracted the goalkeeper wouldn’t have been relevant.
-- Defensive breakdowns and midfield giveaways nearly cost the Dutch a spot in their third World Cup final. Keeper Maarten Stekelenburg took criticism for not stopping Forlan's swerving shot, yet Forlan set up the opportunity with a simple fake of a right-footed shot, which he almost never does from that distance. With the ball on his left and a wide lane set up by the fake, he blasted a whirling shot that grazed Stekelenburg’s fingertips on its way into the net. Uruguay created several good opportunities, and not until the third Dutch goal did they look to be in control.
-- Much of ESPN’s World Cup coverage has been sensational and the network deserves great credit for slotting for ample studio and auxiliary programming in addition to game coverage. Evaluation of commentators and analysts is often one of personal choice. One thing must be said is that none of them have been robotic or stilted. For better or worse, they’ve let loose their personalities and opinions, which is why they’re on the air in the first place.
Still, listening to play-by-play man Ian Darke’s schoolmarmish scolding of players and teams for diving or falling or complaining detracted from this broadcast. A classic match – Europe against South America, five goals, stars of both teams shining brightly, a few tricky offside decisions -- played for the most part in a sportsmanlike manner doesn’t need clucking and tut-tutting from the commentary box. For the most part, the players got on with it, and Darke should have, too. When he described the Uruguayan effort as “gallant,” he got it exactly right.
July 6 in Cape Town
Netherlands 3 Uruguay 2. Goals: van Bronckhorst 18, Sneijder 70, Robben 73; Forlan 41, M.Pereira 90.
Netherlands -- Stekelenburg, Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst, van Bommel, De Zeeuw (van der Vaart, 46), Robben (Elia, 88), Sneijder, Kuyt, van Persie
Uruguay -- Muslera, M.Pereira, Godin, Victorino, Caceres, Perez, Gargano, Arevalo Rios, A.Pereira (Abreu, 78), Cavani, Forlan (S.Fernandez, 84).
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan).