Netherlands 3, Uruguay 2
If you can paint a town orange, that’s what the Dutch will be
doing in Cape Town, Amsterdam and everywhere else they can think
of. The Netherlands is in the World Cup final, and boy do the
players know how to celebrate a big win.
Like in an Oranje mosh pit. Or on each other’s shoulders,
leading the flag-waving, vuvuzela-tooting fans in song.
The Dutch head to Johannesburg for their first shot at the
soccer championship in 32 years after a 3-2 victory over scrappy
but outmanned Uruguay on Tuesday night.
“We are so close,” said Wesley Sneijder, who scored the
go-ahead goal. “There is nothing bigger than the World Cup.”
That elusive first title is still one win away. But this was
such a moment to savor that most of the squad made a curtain call
nearly an hour after the biggest Netherlands victory in decades,
leading about 1,000 orange-clad fans in cheers that figure to last
That’s when the Dutch will play either Spain or Germany for
soccer’s big prize.
“If you win the final, you make yourself immortal, at least in
our country,” said Arjen Robben, whose winner came three minutes
after Sneijder scored. “We will do everything we can to take the
It’s hard to doubt them, with the Dutch on a 25-game unbeaten
streak, including 10 straight wins. They’re not as creative as the
Clockwork Oranje of the 1970s, when they lost two World Cup finals
to host teams – West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978. Nor are
they as explosive.
But they sure are good, and on the kind of roll that gives the
Dutch the look of champions – with an Oranje hue, of course.
“This is unforgettable,” said Sneijder, tied with Spain’s
David Villa for top scorer at the tournament (five goals). “It was
a tough fight and toward the end we complicated matters.
“Sunday we play in the World Cup final. I have to get used to
Long wasteful with its soccer talent, the Netherlands has found
the right touch in this tournament, winning all six matches.
Inside Green Point Stadium it looked like a Florida citrus
grove. Outside, a Netherlands fan in a blue and white bodysuit
stood on stilts and played a vuvuzela – badly. It was about the
only thing that didn’t measure up for the Dutch.
And a tournament that looked like a South American fiesta early
on will end in a European showdown for the second straight World
Cup. Sneijder and Robben made sure of that.
Sneijder’s goal came somewhat unexpectedly because Uruguay had
shut down the Dutch offense for much of the second half. His
left-footed shot from just inside the penalty area barely ticked
the leg of defender Maximiliano Pereira and, with Robin van Persie
almost deflecting it again, the ball skidded past goalkeeper
Then Robben sent a cross from Dirk Kuyt past a flat-footed
Muslera with a brilliant header. His teammates piled on in an
Oranje Crush celebration, and Robben came up from it muddied and
merry – and with the knowledge that, ahead 3-1, the Netherlands was
likely headed to the championship match.
Uruguay was without dangerous striker Luis Suarez, whose
handball on the goal line in the final seconds of extra time
against Ghana saved his team in the quarterfinals. He drew a red
card for that, and spent his suspension on the bench watching his
undermanned teammates come up just short.
Pereira made the Netherlands sweat with a goal in injury time,
and Maarten Stekelenburg’s late save preserved the victory – and
touched off the partying.
Robben was replaced late in the match, and at the final whistle
he fell flat to the turf as he ran back onto the pitch. At least he
wasn’t buried under his teammates and practically eating mud like
he was following the pile-on after his goal.
Robben came up smiling after that one, then blew kisses to the
fans and his teammates.
At the joyous end, Mark van Bommel hustled over to where the
ball came to rest, picked it up and hugged it. His teammates then
began a pleasure-filled stroll around the field, some of them
barechested, as the vuvuzelas blared and Dutch flags waved in the
“This is very special,” coach Bert Van Marwijk said. “After
32 years we play the final again. Such a small country! We can be
very proud of this.”
The Jabulani ball Van Bommel grabbed has been a source of
criticism for its unpredictability, particularly the way it can
soar. When Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, a true defensive halfback,
puts one in from 30 yards off the far goalpost, well, let the
debate begin again.
The Dutch captain gave his team the lead in the 18th minute, and
the Oranje pressed for more, but when they let up slightly on
defense, the superb Diego Forlan pounced. He was given far too much
open space in the middle of the field and, from just under 30
yards, his left-footed drive went off goalkeeper Stekelenburg’s
hand and into the net.
Stekelenburg was screened just enough by defender John Heitinga
and didn’t get a good view of the ball until it was too late.
Forlan celebrated his fourth goal of the tournament with a suave
wave of his arm. Suarez leaped off the bench in jubilation.
But Forlan left in the 85th minute with a painful thigh.
“From minute one he had a problem,” coach Oscar Tabarez said.
“I’m not dumb enough to take him out at 3-1 when the match wasn’t
lost. He was injured and could not continue.”
Tabarez said the better team won.
“We did what we could, we accept the defeat,” he said. “We’re
sad because even though nobody gave us a chance, we were
Van Bronckhorst was in his accustomed role early in the second
half when he headed a long shot by Alvaro Pereira away from the net
after Stekelenburg was caught out chasing a stray back pass. And
the Dutch defense was under siege in the final minutes as Uruguay
sought to tie it.
The Celeste will head to Saturday’s third-place game, not bad
for the last team to qualify.
The Dutch? Every road between Cape Town and Johannesburg might
get a repainted a certain color before Sunday.