Slovakia’s magic run in the World Cup came to an end in the pre-quarter final stage when they went down 2-1 against the mighty Dutch at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder scored one goal each for the Oranje brigade, while Robert Vittek scored the consolation goal for Slovakia in the dying moments of the match.
Slovakia did not get budged down by their more illustrious opponents and maintained decent ball possession in the initial stages of the match. In the second minute, contrary to the popular anticipation, Slovakian midfielder Erik Jendrisek got the first opportunity of the match to put his side ahead, but his right-footer sailed well over Maartin Stekelenberg’s goal. This attempt served as a wake-up call for the Dutch side and Robin van Persie responded with a similar shot over the Slovakian bar. Minutes later, Wesley Sneijder wasted a nice goal-scoring opportunity from a decent position.
After regaining match fitness, Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben returned to the starting XI and justified coach Bert van Marwijk’s faith in him by scoring the opening goal of the match. Chasing a long ball floated from Netherland’s left back position, the comeback man outpaced Radoslav Zabavnik down the right wing before cutting in and smashing a low right footer into Jan Mucha’s near post. From then onwards the match merely reduced to a midfield battle – testing both the goalkeepers with long range shots being the order of the day.
Arsenal talisman Robin van Persie wasted a golden opportunity to double the Dutch lead in the 41st minute when he brilliantly intercepted a Mark van Bommel pass and dodged past his marker on the edge of the box only to fire a tame shot straight at Slovak custodian Mucha.
Slovakia began to look menacing in the second half after Coach Vladimir Weiss decided to opt for a more aggressive 4-4-2 formation in search of the equalizer. They were slowly getting into the stride, posing questions for a so far untested Dutch defense. One such attacking move in the 65th minute produced a superb fingertipped save from Maartin Stekelenberg, who had been a mere spectator in the match thus far. Getting fed by Marek Hamsik, Miroslav Stoch unleashed a fierce right footer from the edge of the Netherlands box, which was destined for the top right corner in the goal, before Stekelenberg responded brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar.
Moments later Robert Vittek, even after breaking the offside trap, could not open the goal-mouth from an one-on-one position with Stekelenberg.
Netherlands, realizing the need for securing their victory, pushed forward to double their lead. With six minutes to go before the final whistle, Liverpool star Dirk Kuyt tracked a long ball up from midfield to send in a perfectly measured low cross for Sneijder, who calmly slotted the ball past Mucha for Oranje’s second goal of the night.
Slovakia’s fairy-tale run was well and truly over by then and they had only their pride to play for. In the dying moments of injury- time, Dutch ‘keeper Stekelenberg unfairly brought down Robert Vittek inside the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Vittek took the spot-kick himself to register the consolation goal for Slovakia in their memorable World Cup debut.
TheHardTackle’s Player Of The Match:
Weisley Sneijder (Netherlands)
The Dutch playmaker was once agian the outstanding performer for the team. He provided some neat passes, maintained steady possession and scored the winner with a super cool finish.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Alberto Undiano (ESP): Grade B+
The referee hardly had any tough decisions to make in the match. He commanded respect from both sets of players and maintained the steady flow of the game. He was strict in protecting players from rough challenges and dished out five yellow cards. He was also in a good position to rightly award the penalty to Slovakia.
Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
Netherlands Line-up: Stekelenberg, Van Der Weil, Heitings, Mathijsen, Bronckhorst, Bommel, Kuyt, De Jong, Robben (Elia 71′), Sneijder (Afellay 92′), Van Persie (Huntelaar 80′)
Cautions: Robben (31′), Stekelenberg (93′)
Sent Offs: None
Scorers: Robben (18′), Sneijder (84′)
Slovakia Line-up: Mucha, Pekarik, Skertel, Zavabnik (Jakubko 88′), Weiss, Hamsik (Sapara 87′), Vittek, Stoch, Durica, Jendrisek (Kopunek 71′), Kucka
Cautions: Kucka (40′), Kopunek (72′), Skertel (84′)
Sent Offs: None
Scorers: Vittek (94′)