CAPE TOWN -
Netherlands reached their
first World Cup final since 1978 when the current crop finally
stepped out of the shadows of Total Football to beat battling
Uruguay 3-2 in a superb semi-final on Tuesday.
They were cruising when two
second-half goals in three
minutes from Wesley Sneijder - his fifth of the tournament -
and Arjen Robben put them 3-1 ahead after earlier long-range
strikes by Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Uruguay's Diego Forlan.
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An added-time goal by Maximiliano
Pereira then set up a
nail-biting finale but the Dutch, who had the edge throughout,
survived to set up a second successive all-European final.
They will face either Germany or
Spain, who meet in Durban
on Wednesday, in a showdown that now guarantees a first European
World Cup triumph on a foreign continent.
After pioneering free-flowing
Total Football and then losing
the 1974 and 1978 finals, as well as being beaten on penalties
by Brazil in the 1998 semi-finals, the class of 2010 have the
chance to rid the Dutch nation of the 'nearly-men' tag.
"I remember those finals very
well," said coach Bert van
Marwijk. "It was a unique generation with Johan Cruyff the best
football player who ever existed.
"It's so great that we've ended up
in the final again. We've
really achieved something after 32 years but we are not there
yet, there is one more match."
Cape Town had been relatively starved of drama in its
previous seven matches but nobody had any complaints this time
as they were treated to the highest scoring semi-final since
Germany drew 3-3 after extra time with France in 1982.
Uruguay, who began their unlikely
route the final on the
same pitch when they held France to a goalless draw, had
conceded only two goals in their previous five games and it took
something extraordinary to get past them on Tuesday.
Van Bronckhorst, 35, and due to
retire from the game after
the final, can surely never have struck a sweeter shot than the
35-metre screamer he drove past Fernando Muslera from wide on
the left to give the Dutch an 18th-minute lead.
They sat back after that, though,
and paid the price when
Forlan almost matched his opposing captain by letting fly from a
similar range four minutes before the break - the ball fizzing
into the net past the wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg.
Uruguay, missing suspended striker
Luis Suarez and injured
regular captain Diego Lugano through injury, raised brief hopes
that they could end their own long wait for glory having won the
second of their two titles 60 years ago.
However, the Dutch, who introduced
Rafael van der Vaart for the second half, eventually began to
regained the lead in the 70th minute when Sneijder's
low shot took a deflection and skidded in to make him joint top
scorer at the tournament with Spain's David Villa.
Three minutes later the tireless
Dirk Kuyt crossed for
Robben to score with a well-taken header and it looked all over.
Robben missed a great chance to
make it four soon after and,
having been substituted to all-round victory hugs from his team
mates, was a worried man when Pereira pulled one back.
The Dutch then had to defend as if
their lives depended on
it for another three minutes with Kuyt making one superb block
to keep out a goal-bound shot.
"I love attacking football but
I've tried to teach this team
about defending," said Van Marwijk, whose players returned to
the pitch an hour after the match to salute the hundreds of
orange-clad fans stills singing.
Uruguay bowed out having flown the
South American flag
further than all their illustrious continental neighbours.
"We never gave up and our last goal
showed we were trying
until the end," said coach Oscar Tabarez. "If you were to chose
a mode of losing it would be how we lost tonight."
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