Holland Heads to Johannesburg

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Holland 3, Uruguay 2

The Oranjemen booked their place in Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup final with a narrow escape from a Uruguayan side that played with plenty of passion but left it too late in the game before mounting a would-be comeback.

Uruguay’s Diego Forlan was again in impressive form and dictated the South Americans’ attack, since Suarez was serving a one match suspension for his infamous handball. Without Suarez’s creativity, Forlan too often was an isolated figure. It’s astonishing how quickly a TV replay can show an offside call to be correct, or a ball to have crossed the line completely, but the officials on the field are forbidden from using their wireless links to hear what actually happened, and so Forlan was incorrectly ruled offside in the first 10 minutes. At the other end, a similar build up left Dirk Kuyt with the ball and goal at his mercy, only to lash his shot wildly over the bar.

Good. Both sides wanting to come out and attack, both sides ready to strike first blood. Mark Van Bommel has been playing as if he is attempting to collect blood donations from the opposite team, in every game thus far. How he has managed to stay on the pitch is a bit of a mystery, and Van Bommel’s intensity has the Uruguayans turning up the heat themselves. Several tackles are contested and the match is simmering at a low boil.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Dutch play the ball to left-back Giovanni Von Bronckhorst, who drifts left and unbelievably belts the ball 40 yards and past the keeper, the ball cannoning off the upright and into the back of the net. Astonishing. A beautiful goal to rival any World Cup goal. Holland one-nil up. The Uruguayans were understandably not that impressed with the goal, and came back with real menace. Cacares tried an over-the-shoulder bicycle kick and caught De Zeeuw square in the puss. On replay, De Zeeuw appeared to be knocked out before he hit the turf. This calls into question the refereeing decisions that award a red card for a stray elbow, but if someone kicks over their goddamn head and catches the other guy in the face and splits his mouth open, it’s only a yellow? Are you serious? Yes, they were serious.

Shortly after play resumed, Forlan again showed his world class talents, striking from 30 yards out and letting the jabulani’s bizarre flight path do the rest. If you’ve ever seen a water-logged ball wiggle in the air, that’s what the jabulani does on nearly every meaningful strike. Stekelenburg in goal may have thought the defender in front of him was going to get a head to the ball, but whatever he was thinking didn’t really matter as the ball dipped and flew past his outstretched hand. The sides are now level, and Dirk Kuyt tries some hold-up play on the left, shielding the ball, only to have his left ankle kicked out from under him, but the ref somehow thinks it’s simulation, as does the ESPN commentator Ian Darke, who rants on about the deplorable diving ruining the game. If anyone ever runs into Darke, just run up to him and kick in the ankle hard enough to knock him down, then ask if that was simulation.

At the restart, De Zeeuw is replaced with Rafael Van Der Vaart, a more attacking midfielder. One of VDV’s first touches it to gift the ball straight to the Uruguayan attack. A minute later, Boulahrouz forgets how to pass the ball and decides to make things interesting by creating a foot race between his keeper and Forlan. Forlan wins the ball and Cavani chips it at goal, but Von Bronckhorst clears the ball off the line. What are the Dutch playing at? They look completely rattled. Both sides begin playing counter-attacking football and the game opens right up.

In the 68th minute Wesley Sneijder finds the ball at his feet just outside the penalty area and tries his luck. The shot pings off a defender’s shin and Robin Van Persie leaps over the ball as it nicks the upright and turns into the goal. The Uruguayans want the goal disallowed for offside, but Van Persie didn’t touch it (wisely). 2-1 to Holland. Minutes later Arjen Robben nets the 3rd goal with a deadly header off a Dirk Kuyt cross. Holland think they’re through and Uruguay is in a murderous humor. A well-worked free kick catches the Dutch napping, and suddenly the momentum swings back in Uruguay’s favor. 89th minute and it’s 3-2 to the Dutch. Long balls bombing forward, throws straight into the box, it’s all hands to the pump now. The ref calls for 3 minutes added time but allows nearly 5, during which Uruguay has at least 2 chances to score an equalizer.

At the final whistle, half a dozen Uruguay players storm the pitch and surround the ref and some Dutch players. Uruguay, just go home already. I mean, really. Yes, we all know we all would have batted the game-winning shot off the line like Suarez did, and everyone please stop moaning about that being cheating or whatever, but at the final whistle, the game is over. Freaking out at the referee as the sprinklers come on just makes you look petty. The Dutch don’t care, they are through to the final. Uruguay looked strong all night but just couldn’t get the ball up to Forlan often enough. The Netherland team have now booked their third final. Will this side be able to achieve what no other Dutch side managed, even the ones with the living legend Johann Cruyff in them? Holland has now won all 7 matches in this tournament but they have not impressed in any of them. If Germany beat Spain, Holland will surely be torn to pieces by the Germans in the final, and so the Holland fans will be cheering on Spain in the other semi-final. Neither Holland nor Spain has had a great match yet, and both sides stuttering to life against each other would be a more even encounter. Holland will go into the final against either Germany or Spain as the decided underdog.

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