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FIFA World Cup: Netherlands ease into Quarter Finals with 2-1 win over Slovakia

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arjen_robben1.jpgThe Netherlands maintained their perfect record at the 2010 FIFA World Cup with an easy 2-1 win over Slovakia at Durban. The Slovaks hardly put up a fight, and goals form Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder booked a quarterfinals spot against either Brazil or Chile.

The biggest piece of team news was the inclusion of Arjen Robben in the Netherlands' starting line-up. The Bayern Munich winger, who had been in great form in the latter part of his club's season, had suffered a hamstring injury in the last week of May and had only made one substitute appearance up till now in 2010 World Cup. Rafael van der Vaart dropped to the bench to make way for Robben, while Gregory van der Wiel returned to the right back position in place of Khalid Boulharouz having been rested in the previous match.

Slovakia made only one change to the side that beat Italy 3-2 in their final group match, with Vladmir Weiss coming in for the suspended Zdenko Strba. The Slovakians had impressed in that match, with their win over the reigning World Champions booking their place in the Round of 16 in their first ever appearance at a World Cup finals. Robert Vittek, who had scored a brace in that win, entered the match tied with Szilard Nemeth as his country's top scorer, and took his customary position up front alongside Erik Jendrisek.

Both teams made a bright start, with the Netherlands being offered an early warning when Jendrisek's left footed shot from a Vladimir Weiss cross went narrowly over the crossbar, while Marek Hamsik also went close. A couple of opportunities fell to Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, and as the Slovakians were slowly pushed further back into their own territory, a Dutch goal looked ominous. Sure enough, they made their breakthrough in the 18th minute.

As the Dutch recovered the ball defending a corner, Wesley Sneijder spotted Arjen Robben in acres of space and lobbed the ball over the Slovakian defence into his teammate's path. The winger collected the ball on the right wing, cut inside, and made himself a yard of space before shooting towards the near post. His effort wasn't the best, but Jan Mucha's positioning in the Slovakian goal wasn't ideal and the ball managed to sneak in between him and the upright.

The goal hit the Slovakians hard, as they struggled to retain possession afterwards, although they did manage to shut out the Dutch from creating any chance of note. The rest of the half was played out exclusively in midfield, as the Dutch tended to ensure they didn't leave gaps at the back while the Slovakians showed plenty of heart but lacked a telling final ball. Maarten Stekelenburg was never forced into action in the Dutch goal, as all five of the Slovakian shots came from outside the penalty area and failed to hit the target.

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The Slovakians needed to hit the ground running early in the second half, but Arjen Robben nearly doubled his side's lead early, yet again cutting into the Slovakian penalty area from the right before unleashing a powerful shot that Mucha just managed to get enough hand on to take it past the far post. Mucha was called into action again, as Robben crossed from the left from the ensuing corner and Joris Mathijsen smacked goalwards from point blank range, only to hit Mucha's face.

Stekelenburg was finally called into action past the hour mark. First, Miroslav Stoch came into the Dutch penalty area from the left and smashed a shot that Stekelenburg did well to tip over the bar. Only a minute later Robert Vittek was clean through on goal, after receiving a glorious pass that split the Dutch defence. But the striker, who had scored a brace in the win over Italy, hit his effort straight at a diving Stekelenburg who managed to get a hand to it. Vittek's horrible match continued as he latched onto a loose ball 12 yards from goal, but took too long to take his shot which he ended up sending well over the crossbar.

The misses came back to haunt the Slovaks, as Wesley Sneijder put the result out of doubt in the 84th minute. Martin Skrtel got caught up in an argument with the referee for a foul given on him for a high boot. The Dutch took the freekick quickly as the Slovaks were caught cold at the back. As a long ball was sent towards the Slovakian goal, Jan Mucha rushed out to get to it first but Dirk Kuyt beat him to it, squared the ball to an onrushing Sneijder who easily slotted into the open goal.

The Slovaks struggled to pick themselves up and produce an exciting last few minutes, possibly having been consigned to their fate. But they did manage to get a consolation goal with the last kick of the game. Stekelenburg was adjudged to have brought down Robert Vittek deep into time added on, and Vittek converted the spot kick. The goal made Robert Vittek his nation's all-time leading scorer and joint top scorer in the tournament with 4 goals, but his earlier misses may just dampen any celebration regarding the milestones.

The Netherlands are now on an 8-match winning streak, and have only conceded twice at this World Cup. Although they are yet to produce the exhilarating offensive performances they did in the warm-up matches and the qualifying stages, they seem more assured in defence and have never once felt under pressure in South Africa. Their first real test now awaits them, as they face the winner of the other Round of 16 tie of the day, between Brazil and Chile, in the quarter finals.

Slovakia were disappointing today, having not caused any worries to Stekelenburg in the first half and wasting three opportunities to level in the second. Even while trailing they never looked like a side that was fighting for survival in the tournament. They would be proud for having made it past the Group stages in their first World Cup finals, but their failure to threaten taking the game into extra time only served as a reminder as to how shocking the Italians have been. Marek Hamsik had a quiet afternoon, while Robert Vittek was guilty of missing two great opportunities.

Starting Line-ups:

Netherlands ( 4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Mathijsen, Heitinga, Van Bronkhorst, Van der Wiel; De Jong, Van Bommel; Sneijder (Afellay 90' + 2'), Kuyt, Robben (Elia 71'); Van Persie (Jan Huntelaar 80')

Slovakia (4-2-3-1): Mucha; Durica, Skrtel, Zabavnik (Jakubko 88'), Pekarik; Hamsik (Sapara 88'), Kucka; Jendrisek (Kopunek 71'), Stoch, Weiss; Vittek

Final Score: Holland 2-1 Slovakia

Netherlands: Robben 18', Sneijder 84'

Slovakia: Vittek pen 90'+3'

Also Read:

Germany 4-1 England - Match Report

Brazil vs Chile - Match Preview

Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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