Arjen Robben returned from
injury to lead Netherlands to a 2-1 win over Slovakia on Monday
and a place in the World Cup's last eight, after the Slovaks
found no answer to the winger's "genius" despite three days of
working out how to nullify him.
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss
could only reflect that his
fears that, if the quicksilver winger played he would improve
the Dutch by 50 percent, proved spot on.
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Robben, in his first start in
South Africa after suffering a
hamstring injury, served up a man-of-the-match display capped by
the opening goal before exiting with 20 minutes to go with the
match all but settled.
victory extended the Dutch team's unbeaten run to 23
games and set up a quarter-final appearance in Port Elizabeth on
Friday against the winners of Brazil against Chile, who play
later on Monday.
opened the scoring on 18 minutes, powering down the
right after collecting a superb crossfield pass from Wesley
Sneijder. He then jinked inside two defenders and drilled a low,
left-footed shot past Jan Mucha.
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"That was nice today. If you're at
the World Cup it should
be fun. We didn't play our best match today, but the important
thing is that we advanced," Robben said.
The second goal came with just six
minutes to go. Captain
Giovanni van Bronckhorst floated a pass to Dirk Kuyt on the edge
of the penalty area, he headed past the stranded Mucha and
crossed for Sneijder to side foot easily into an empty goal.
Slovakia's Robert Vittek slotted
home a penalty in the
fourth minute of injury time, making him Slovakia's record
goalscorer with 23, but it was scant consolation after he
fluffed two excellent chances to equalise.
After opening the scoring, the
Dutch sat back for much of
the first half and while defensive midfielders Nigel de Jong and
Mark van Bommel snuffed out Slovak attacks and sprayed the ball
wide, there was little attacking venom.
There was a glimpse of the team's
potential in the 44th
minute when Robben, Robin van Persie and Sneijder strung a
succession of slick passes together to release van Bommel but
van Persie screwed his fast, low cross wide of goal.
Robben again burst into life after
the break, with almost a
repeat of the first-half goal. He picked up a loose clearance on
the right in the 50th minute, darted past two defenders again
and unleashed a fierce left-foot shot that Mucha did well to
turn round the post.
minute later on the other side of the field, he crafted a
superb chance for impressive defender Joris Mathijsen to double
the lead from close range, but Mucha again saved well.
"We were preparing for three days
for Robben, for his way of
playing, but he is an absolute genius," said Slovakia coach
Vladimir Weiss. "When I saw him in the line-up I knew he makes
the Netherlands line-up 50 percent stronger and I was correct."
The Dutch team again took its foot
off the pedal in the
second half and Slovakia finally made some headway in the middle
as they strove for a repeat of their shock victory that dumped
world champions Italy out of the competition.
Miroslav Stoch, who looked the
most threatening Slovak in
attack, surged in from the flank but his powerful strike was
tipped over by Maarten Stekelenburg in the 67th minute.
Seconds later, Vittek was played
through unmarked with only
Stekelenburg to beat, but he blasted his shot straight at the
advancing Dutch keeper.
wasted another excellent chance to equalise in the 78th
minute, dilly-dallying over his shot when alone in the area
again, eventually pushing a tame shot high of the goal.
The Dutch have now ground out four
wins in South Africa in
search of their first World title, but without really playing to
their full potential.
you look at the whole match I think we deserved to win
by far. We're here for one thing and one reason only: as a
sportsman you have to go for the big prize," said coach Bert van
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