The Netherlands reached the semifinals of the World Cup for the fourth time when it rallied from one goal down at the half for a 2-1 win over Brazil, which collapsed in the last half hour.
What we liked ...
-- Keyed by a superb save from keeper Martin Stekelenburg, the Dutch didn’t unravel and concede what could have been a decisive second goal. Stekelenburg flew to his left and nicked away a curling shot from Kaka in the 31st minute after Robinho had battled through a pair of challenges to create the opportunity. In first-half stoppage time, Stekelenburg also dove to deflect a hard shot from right back Maicon, who had powered up the flank to test the keeper.
-- Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben weren’t at their best, so Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt simply kept driving at the Brazil midfield and back line in search of miscues. The tough, assured play of Brazilian center backs Juan and Lucio blunted numerous thrusts, but once Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar collided going for a Sneijder free kick and the ball glanced off the defenders head into the net for an own goal, the Dutch took over.
-- Another set play provided the winning Dutch goal, with Kuyt flicking Robben’s inswinging corner kick at the near post for Sneijder to head in from close range. Kuyt beat Luis Fabiano to the ball and nobody could react in time to stop Sneijder from heading past Julio Cesar, his club teammate at Inter Milan.
-- Pressed into emergency service when starter Doris Mathijsen came up hobbling during the pre-match warmup, defender Andre Ooijer shook off the shock of watching Robinho skate through the middle to score in the 10th minute. He and central partner John Heitinga solidified their play after a rocky first half and shut off Brazil’s frantic attacks in the final minutes.
-- By knocking off the five-time champion, the Dutch increased the possibility of a team that has never won the World Cup reaching this year’s final. That hasn’t happened since France reached the final, and won, as host in 1998.
What we didn’t like ..
-- After taking a 1-0 lead on Robinho’s superb finish of a piercing through ball from Felipe Melo, Brazil fluffed some excellent opportunities set up by Dani Alves. Juan fired over the bar from close range after a partially cleared corner kick that Alves served back into the box, and Luis Fabiano peeled away from his marker to head a free kick well over the bar. Early in the second half, Juan missed the target again on yet another corner, and five minutes later the Dutch equalized.
-- Robben wasn’t the only player flopping and diving, but his anguished grimace on a near-miss tackle by defender Miguel Bastos was a clear attempt to have the Brazilian, already cautioned, sent off. The purported foul did result in the free kick that Sneijder whipped into goalmouth and glanced off Felipe Melo’s head into the net.
-- Once it fell behind, Brazil’s composure fizzled as the revived Dutch surged forward. Still, Kaka hit a first-time shot off a bouncing ball wide from a good spot, and Dani Alves shot well wide from distance. But Brazil’s panicky defending gave away free kicks and corner kicks and after Sneijder scored for a 2-1 Dutch lead, Melo charged into Robben after losing the ball and drew a straight red card.
-- Instead of marshaling its skill and experience, an absolute necessity while down to 10 men, Brazil resorted to pugnacious behavior much like that exhibited during the tournament by head coach Dunga. The confident Dutch fended off a long run by Lucio that reached the attacking zone, and a Dani Alves free kick hit the wall.