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Netherlands shock Brazil 2-1 to enter FIFA World Cup Semi-finals

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dutch_celebrate.jpgThe Netherlands pulled off a shock 2-1 upset against Brazil, beating the 5-time World Champions for the first time since 1974 to advance to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup. The heroes 36 years ago were the legendary pairing of Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruyff who powered the Dutch into the final with a 2-0 win, and perhaps the stars of today Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder may have just written their own names into Dutch folklore with an amazing come from behind win after being run ragged in the first half. Brazil took the early lead through Robinho, who slotted home after a defensive lapse by the Dutch in just the 10th minute of the game. It was one way traffic right through the first half with Brazil left to rue not putting the game to rest as the Dutch came back strongly in the second half. Defensive errors were the order of the day as an own goal from Felipe Melo and a free-header from a corner by Wesley Sneijder put the Netherlands 2-1 ahead. Brazil finished the game with 10 men with Melo sent off for stamping on Arjen Robben, who created havoc down the right flank right through the second half. It was an emotional win for the Dutch in the end, and an unfortunate exit for the Samba Kings, but in truth on the night they were probably their own worst enemies.

The Netherlands were forced into making one late change in their starting eleven for this big game with 35-year old center-back Andre Ooijer coming in for his first game of the tournament in place of Joris Mathijsen, who had injured his knee in the warm-up, a huge blow for the Dutch. The rest of the team lined-up as expected, with Robin van Persie leading the line, Arjen Robben deployed on the right wing with Dirk Kuyt on the left. Wesley Sneijder would pull the strings in the middle of the park with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong sitting behind to protect the back four. The Dutch had as many as 7 players in the starting eleven who were carrying a yellow card into this match and needed to be a little extra careful with their tackling.

Brazil started in their customary fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. Felipe Melo came back into the side, much to the relief of Coach Dunga, who would have otherwise had to stick the veteran Kleberson into the side with Ramires serving a 1-game suspension. Dani Alves continued to deputize for Elano as part of the front three and though he started on the right, it was to come as no surprise that he and Robinho would swap wings regularly to try and take advantage of the veteran skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst at left back. Brazil also had 4 players on yellow cards coming into this match, including Kaka and Luis Fabiano.

The match got off to a rather ugly start with Dani Alves bringing down Arjen Robben with an unnecessary tackle with the Dutch winger still in his own half, and the players got into a bit of a melee with Robinho having some less than kind words to say to the Dutch players. Robinho was in the thick of the action a few minutes later putting the ball into the back of the net in the 7th minute after the Dutch were sliced wide open, but Dani Alves had picked up the ball which played Robinho through when just offside and the goal was ruled out.

The Dutch failed to heed the early warning and found themselves a goal down in the 10th minute when that man Robinho again smashed the ball into goal, this time legitimately. Melo provided the pass, and the want away Manchester City forward was played onside by a careless Andre Ooijer, slow to get out of defence, and the Brazilian happily latched onto the opportunity to slot the ball home.

Netherlands tried to hit back immediately with Dirk Kuyt drawing a good near post save from Julio Cesar, and then Arjen Robben earning a free kick from some 30 odd yards out, only for Robin van Persie to put the ball into orbit. That was as close as the Dutch came in the opening 45 minutes, with Brazil dominating the possession, and the Netherlands struggling to keep pace.

Brazil created a couple of half chances from set plays with Juan and Luis Fabiano firing headers over the goal, before the South Americans put together their best piece of play in the opening half. Robinho beat a couple of defenders down the right and played the ball through to Luis Fabiano, who in turn teed up Kaka. The Real Madrid playmaker's effort was curling into the top corner, and was denied only by a world class save from Maarten Stekelenberg. Brazil almost doubled their advantage right on the stroke of half time as another excellent team move saw marauding right-back Maicon as the furthest man forward, and his rasping shot produced another outstanding save from Stekelenberg.

The Netherlands would perhaps consider themselves a little lucky to still be in this game after having produced practically nothing in the first half and having been under the cosh for most of it.

arjen_robben.jpgThe second half started with a similar pattern to the first, with Brazil continuing to run the show and the Dutch trying hard to stay with them. In the 52nd minute, Michel Bastos' trailing leg caught Arjen Robben while on a powerful forward run, and the left back was lucky to still be on the pitch having already been booked in the first half. Had he not been booked, Bastos would surely have got a yellow card for the challenge but the referee Yuichi Nishimura of Japan decided to keep the match 11 against 11. The ensuing free-kick saw the Dutch triple up on a the lone defender left covering the ball, and Wesley Sneijder whipped in a cross with his left foot which both Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar came to clear. The defensive midfielder took the ball out of his keeper's gloves, and the ball slid off the top of his head and straight into an unguarded net drawing the Netherlands level.

The speed of the game picked up considerably after the Dutch equalizer, with both teams believing that they could go on and win this one. Dani Alves took a decent shot from distance on the hour mark, but his effort skewed wide. Dunga made an astute substitution soon after, bringing off the ticking time bomb Bastos for Gilberto Melo. Kaka had another sighter from distance in the 66th minute, this time his curler going a foot wide of Stekelenberg's goal.

Straight back up the other end, Gilberto Melo conceded a corner to Netherlands after being put under a little bit of pressure by Robben. From the ensuing corner, the Dutch went into wonderland as Dirk Kuyt's near post flick-on was comfortably knocked into the net by Wesley Sneijder while the entire Brazilian defence stood static. With 17 minutes to go the task for Brazil got that much harder as Felipe Melo's game turned from bad to worse when he was sent off for stamping on Arjen Robben. The game was continuing to boil over and Robinho came very close to talking himself off the pitch too, only to be rescued by captain Lucio.

The last 10 minutes saw some incredibly panicky defending from both teams. Sneijder had a great chance to ease Dutch nerves in the 83rd minute, but was denied from close range by his Inter Milan team mate Julio Cesar. The Bazilians took less than 20 seconds to turn defence into attack, but Kaka failed to pull the ball back for substitute Nilmar. The 87th minute saw Dirk Kuyt through on goal, but a last ditch tackle from Juan prevented the Dutch from adding to the scoreline. Brazil earned a free-kick from 35 yards out in the last minute of normal time but Dani Alves failed to clear the Dutch defensive wall. The Dutch had a chance to put the game to rest, finding themselves in a bizarre 3-on-1 situation in injury time, but dallied on the ball and it came to naught. Fortunately, they were not left to regret their indecisiveness, as the referee blew for full time soon after, sealing a most memorable win.

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The Dutch now head to Cape Town, where they await the winner of the second quarter-final of the day between Uruguay and Ghana. They will be the favourites to come up trumps on Tuesday and advance to their first final since that famous 1974 showing. They will have to do without the services of Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong, who both picked up bookings today and have hence been ruled out of the semi-finals. The other Dutch players will now enter the amnesty phase of the competition and will have the slate wiped clean to ensure that a second booking in Tuesday's game doesn't rule them out of the final should they get there.

The Teams:

Netherlands: Stekelenberg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Ooijer, Van Bronckhorst, De Jong, Van Bommel, Kuyt, Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie (Huntelaar 85')

Brazil: Cesar, Maicon, Juan, Lucio, Bastos (Gilberto Melo 61'), Gilberto, Felipe Melo, Alves, Kaka, Robinho, Fabiano (Nilmar 77')

Final Score: Netherlands 2 - 1 Brazil (Brazil: Robinho 10', Netherlands: Felipe Melo 53' og, Sneijder 68)

Also Read:

Uruguay vs Ghana (Match Preview)

Dutch Team File Photograph Copyright: Tsutomu Takasu

Robben File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

Fan Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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