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Netherlands beat Uruguay 3-2 to advance to World Cup Final

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netherlands_score.jpgA superlative performance from the Netherlands led from the front by skipper Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, who opened the scoring with a screamer, helped overcome a spirited challenge by the last of the surviving South American nations, Uruguay, in a gripping first semi-final of the FIFA World Cup at the Green Point Stadium on Tuesday.

Van Bronckhorst's goal had given Holland the lead before Diego Forlan equalized with a similarly audacious shot in the first half. The game though came alive in the second period when the talented midfield duo of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben put the game beyond doubt. Maxi Pereira did manage to reduce the margin of defeat in the dying minutes, setting up a nervous last few minutes for the Dutch, who hung on to eventually clinch the game 3-2.

Both managers were forced to make changes to their teams going into the big game, thanks to injuries and suspensions. Diego Godin replaced injured Uruguayan skipper Diego Lugano while a third Diego, Forlan took over the captain's armband. Walter Gargano also made his way in, replacing the suspended Luis Suarez, whose handball sacrifice in the quarter-finals made him the toast of Uruguay and the scourge of Africa. The Netherlands also had their share of suspensions, with Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel out,  replaced respectively by Demy De Zeeuw and Khalid Boulahrouz. Both Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben were thankfully declared fit, to take their place in the starting eleven.

While Netherlands continued to play an aggressive 4-2-3-1 formation, Uruguay reverted to a more defensive 4-4-2 with Edinson Cavani joining Forlan upfront, in the absence of regular partner Suarez. Netherlands expectedly dominated the start, putting early pressure playing possession football. Dirk Kuyt had an early chance when Muslera palmed Wesley Sneijder's shot straight to him but the Liverpool forward volleyed wide from close range. With ball rarely at their feet in the early exchanges, the South Americans were happy to sit back, making it hard for the Dutch to breakthrough until an inspired effort from their skipper gave the game the early goal it so desperately needed.

Getting hold of the ball on the left side of midfield about 35 yards out, Van Bronckhorst let fly a blinder which left Muslera with no chance whatsoever, before rushing into the top right corner of the goal. While the goal came from an unlikely source, the Dutch always looked the better side as Uruguay struggled to find an opening past the Oranje defence. Both Caceres and Sneijder soon found themselves carded from a post-corner scrap in the Dutch box, the former knocking De Zeeuw out cold with a high foot, and the latter reacting to the treatment meted out to his teammate.

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Uruguay's first spell of pressure came towards the end of the first half with both Cavani and Alvaro Pereira coming close but it was left to skipper Forlan to respond yet again, with 4 minutes left in the half. With some space to maneuver, Forlan sent a long-range shot crashing towards goal, only for Stekelenburg to misjudge the flight of the ball and gift Uruguay the equalizer. The second long-range goal of the game brought the South Americans right back into it at the half-time whistle, and it was no less than they deserved.

Rafael Van der Vaart was brought in by the Dutch at halftime with De Zeeuw making way, in a bid to throw in some more arsenal in attack. The Dutch though, got off to a shaky start to the half with Stekelenburg almost making a hash after running out to save a ball from Cavani. Pereira's goal-bound chip from the resulting mess was headed away by Van Bronckhorst, to the relief of the Oranje fans.

The game then went into a scratchy passage of play with neither of the teams producing enough quality to stitch together threatening moves, and a breakthrough looking highly unlikely. Netherlands managed more time on the ball though, and should have taken the lead when Muslera's save from a Van der Vaart save fell to an incoming Robben, who could only side-foot with his standing right foot over the bar.

The breakthrough wasn't far though, and the Dutch were soon rewarded for their persistence, with none other than Sneijder managing to sneak one in through Muslera's defences. Sneijder's shot from just inside the box took a deflection off a defender, and then went past Van Persie's outstretched leg even as a despairing dive from the keeper failed to save the ball from crossing the line.

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Two minutes later, South American hopes were crushed when Kuyt's cross found Robben in the box, with the latter's uncontested header giving Netherlands a third goal and with that, an almost unassailable lead. Tabarez rang in the changes with time running out for Uruguay, as Sebastian Abreu - the cool penalty-taker against Ghana - was brought in even as Robben came close twice for his second.

Maxi Pereira pulled one back for Uruguay with one minute of extra-time left to leave the Dutch on the edge for the last 60 seconds or so, but Van Bronckhorst's men held on to make it through to the final, their first since back to back final defeats in 1974 and '78. Bert van Marwijk's men now await the outcome of tomorrow's second semi-final as either Germany or Spain would join them for an all-European finale on Sunday, the 11th of June. Incidentally, Germany beat Netherlands in the first of those finals in the 1970s, with the legendary Johan Cruyff falling prey to Gerd Muller.

For Uruguay, a daring run in the tournament comes to an end and though Oscar Tabarez can be proud of his team, he would feel his team may have nicked this game had  skipper Lugano and striker Suarez been available. The latter will return to the side in the game that no team really wants to play, the third place play-off taking place on Saturday.

The Teams:

Netherlands: Stekelenburg (GK), Mathijsen, Heitinga, Van Bronckhorst, Boulahrouz, De Zeeuw (Van der Vaart 45'), Van Bommel, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt, Robben (Elia 90').

Uruguay: Muslera (GK), Godin, Victorino, Caceres, Gargano, Maxi Pereira, Arevalo, Perez, Forlan (Fernandez 84'), Alvaro Pereira (Abreu 78'), Cavani.

Final Scoreline: Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay

Netherlands: Van Bronckhorst 18', Sneijder 70', Robben 73', Uruguay: Forlan 41', Pereria 90+2')

Also Read: Spain vs Germany Match Preview

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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