The first semi-final between Uruguay and Netherlands was a scrappy affair, with the men in Oranje emerging triumphant to book a place in the final for the first time in 32 years.
The La Celeste, the sole representative of South America in the semi-finals, went into this game to ensure that history repeats itself – that is, no European side had won a World Cup outside of Europe. The trend seems highly likely to be broken by the presence of three European teams in the final four berths, but Uruguay had proved their mettle in the tournament so far, and they were ready to take on a consistent Dutch side, which was yet to taste defeat in the qualifiers and the World Cup finals so far.
Both teams made changes to their lineups. With Fucile and Suarez suspended for the match, Caceres slotted in the left back position, while Alvaro Pereira took the vacant space left behind by Suarez. Godin replaced the injured captain Lugano at center back. For Netherlands, Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel missed the match through suspensions, with Demy de Zeeuw and Khalid Boulahrouz occupying the respective positions, while Joris Mathijsen returned to the center back position.
The South Americans started the game with purpose, looking to secure an early lead, but it was the Oranje who almost drew first blood. In the third minute, a Sneijder cross was punched out by Muslera, and the ball fell to Kuyt, whose shot sailed over the bar. In the ninth minute, Robben’s header failed to connect with a Kuyt cross in front of goal, and Muslera pouched the rebound safely over a lurking van Persie. A few minutes later, the Arsenal striker unwittingly blocked a goal bound effort from Sneijder.
The first breakthrough of the game came from the Dutch captain van Bronckhorst in the 18th minute. He received a pass from de Zeeuw on the left in the Uruguayan half, and unleashed a 30 yard screamer which evaded Muslera’s reach, bounced off the far right post, and ended in the top right corner of the net – a wonder goal from an unexpected source.
In the 26th minute, a Diego Forlan corner was cleared by the Dutch defense; Caceres attempted a bicycle kick on the loose ball, but his foot connected with de Zeeuw’s jaw instead, prompting a confrontation between him and angry Dutch players. The referee restored order on the field, de Zeeuw was up and running in a few minutes, and Caceres and Sneijder were shown yellow for a minor tussle.
The match was open-ended, with both sides repeatedly penetrating the opposition penalty box but unable to put the ball past a sturdy defense. While Kuyt and Robben stretched the Uruguayan defense wide with their runs on the wings, Forlan and Cavani kept Mathijsen and co. on their toes. Both the teams were unable to string decent passes in the midfield, and more than often they gave away ball possession. However, in the 41st minute, Forlan put his name on the scoresheet yet again. He cut inside Mathijsen, found space in front of the Dutch’D’, and unleashed a swerving 25-yard shot that deceived Stekelenburg, who couldn’t parry away the ball despite having his fingertips on it.
The first half ended at 1-1, but the pendulum had now swung back in Uruguay’s favour, after Netherlands had dominated possession for most of the game in this period.
The second half started off where it left, with both sides displaying attacking intent. van Der Vaart came on as a half time substitute for the injured de Zeeuw, giving the Oranje more attacking options. In the 51st minute, Stekelenburg rushed forward to rob Cavani of the ball in a one-on-one situation, but Cavani managed to pass the ball to Alvaro Pereira on the left. The latter lobbed the ball towards the unguarded goal, but van Bronckhorst arrived on the spot to head it clear.
As the minutes ticked by, Netherlands began to assert their authority on the field. A flurry of corners ensued at the Uruguayan side, but the South Americans cleared the ball with ease. The Oranje played a patient game, trying all tricks in their books to unlock the mean Uruguay defense. Diego Forland and co. were content to absorb the Dutch attacks and play counter attacking football. In the 65th minute, van Bommel conceded a foul outside the Netherlands box;, and Forlan’s free kick was saved by Stekelenburg. A couple of minutes later, a tearaway Dutch attack saw Muslera block van Der Vaart’s curler, and Robben skied the rebound over the crossbar.
Netherlands took the lead in the 70th minute, with Sneijder once again putting his name on the score sheet. A neat exchange of passes between orange clad players on the edge of the Uruguayan penalty box saw the ball end at Sneijder’s feet, and his shot deflected off a defender’s leg, squeezed between van Persie’s legs and kissed the back of the net.
Uruguay searched around for the equalizer, but the Dutch had other things in mind. In the 73rd minute, Kuyt sent in a whipping cross from the left side, and Robben struck a powerful header past a stranded Muslera into the far left of the goalpost, to put the game out of reach of La Celeste. The goal sent the Dutch camp into joyous raptures, while a defeated Forlan looked on in agony.
The rest of the match became a mere formality, with the Dutch looking to increase the lead and the South Americans attempting a fightback to regain some pride, although deep down they knew the game was over them, as evinced by Forlan’s substitution in the 83rd minute for Sebastian Fernandez. Netherlands kept an iron hold on the match; Robben was close to scoring his second goal of the game in a one on one with Muslera, but his weak poke was comfortably saved. Uruguay staged a late comeback two minutes into injury time, when Maxi Pereira scored a left footed curler from a set-piece play-in, to give his team a glimmer of hope. However, the Dutch defense held on resolutely against the flurry of attacks, to book a place in the finals for the first time since 1978.
TheHardTackle’s Player Of The Match:
It was not one of his best performances in this World Cup campaign, but comparatively he fared better than Robben and van Persie. His goal, albeit a deflected one, shifted the momentum to the Oranje and allowed them to dictate the game there on. He continues to remain the key player for the Dutch, and his contributions will be vital in the World Cup final.
Other Key Performers:
Dirk Kuyt (Netherlands): The Liverpool striker always puts his full efforts on the pitch. He was a constant menace to the Uruguayan defense, switching flanks with Robben and delivering sumptuous crosses into the penalty box. His cross from the left side was converted by Robben to give the Dutch their third goal.
Diego Forlan (Uruguay): The Uruguay captain worked hard to inspire his side’s attacks, and his wonder strike put Uruguay back into the game. However, he sorely missed the understanding and services of the suspended Luiz Suarez, and was reduced to a helpless spectator towards the end of the game.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Ravshan Irmatov (UZB) – Grade:B+
The Uzbek official had a good game. He was able to distinguish most of the genuine fouls from play-acting, and dealt out cards when the situation merited it. The minor scuffle following Caceres’ unintentional kick on Demy De Zeeuw’s jaw was handled admirably by him, and the spectators did not witness much incident after that.
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
Uruguay Starting Line-up: (4-4-2): Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Godin, Victorino, Caceres, Diego Perez, Gargano, Arevalo Rios, A. Pereira(Abreu 78′), Forlan(Fernandez 84′), Cavani
Cautions: Maxi Pereira (21’), Caceres (29′)
Sent Offs: None
Scorers: Diego Forlan (41′), Maxi Periera(90+2′)
Netherlands Starting Line-up: (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg, Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst, van Bommel, de Zeeuw(van Der Vaart 45’4, Robben(Elia 89′), Sneijder, Kuyt, van Persie
Cautions: Sneijder(29′), Boulahrouz(78′), van Bommel(90+4′)
Scorers: van Bronckhorst (18’), Sneijder(70′), Robben(73′)