Netherlands 0-1 Spain (aet)

In the end, the best team won. Spain have been the best side in the world for at least the last two years since winning Euro 2008, and won the first World Cup in their history last night thanks to Andres Iniesta’s strike late in injury time. However the match will not be remembered as a scintillating battle between two of the great footballing nations and philosophies, nor will Spain be mentioned in the same breath as the truly great attacking sides. This was a scrappy, bad-tempered final that seemed destined for penalties until Iniesta struck.

This fourth consecutive 1-0 win means this Spanish team of Iniesta, Xavi, Villa et al win the World Cup with a record number of goals scored – their final tally of 8 the lowest of any World Cup winning side in history. This was not what was expected from the team that beat Poland 6-0 in their final group game with a marvellous David Silva goal. All of Spain’s games followed a similar pattern: tasked with breaking down compact defences, failing to do so, starting to look nervous before making a breakthrough at which point they become the best side in the world, because you can’t score against them if they won’t give you the ball.

Last night’s final was little different and will linger in the memory only for an unpleasant atmosphere ill-befitting of a World Cup final. Throughout the tournament the Netherlands had shown that they had replaced a little of their traditional style with dogged physical presence but they took it to extremes here. Sneijder, Robben and van Persie were peripheral figures as the team’s hardmen, lead by Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, set about disrupting Spain’s passing game by foul means.

Howard Webb showed 14 yellow cards over the course of the game, also a World Cup final record, and the tone was rather set after he had booked 4 players in the opening quarter of the match. By then Spain might have been ahead, Stekelenberg reacting sharply to parry away a Sergio Ramos header, and Sneijder drew a routine save from Casillas up the other end, a 40-yard free kick that the keeper held easil enough. But if Webb thought that by making examples of a few tackles early on he would calm the game down, he was wrong.

Nigel De Jong might have seen a straight red card for a 28th-minute challenge on Xabi Alonso that saw him karate kick the Real Madrid midfielder high in the chest. Webb let him off with a yellow but a challenge which appeared upleasant to the naked eye was scandalous in slow-motion, and Webb had got his first contentious decision wrong.

The first half rather petered out into a mess of fouls, reminiscent not of Total Voetbal versus Tiki-taka so much as Bolton v Arsenal; one team passing it around beautifully but not doing much in the final third, another getting a foot on the ball when possible, leaving the foot in when not. Holland had their first decent spell of possession in the dying moments of the half, Arjen Robben’s shot saved by Casillas low at his near post.

Spain had a great chance soon after the restart but Carles Puyol was unable to make the most of his free header from a corner kick, glancing a header downwards into the path of an unsuspecting Joan Capdevila who miskicked with the goal at his mercy. Vicente del Bosque was the first coach to blink, replacing the ineffective Pedro with Jesus Navas, the winger who adds a bit of dynamism and intent to Spain’s play down the right flank.

Shortly after the hour mark Holland had the best chance of the match, Sneijder finally able to put his mark on the game with a defence-splitting through ball that sent the pacey Robben sprinting clear on goal. The Bayern Munich winger waited in vain for Casillas to go to ground but Spain’s keeper stayed on his feet until the last moment, parrying Robben’s eventual low shot with his right boot. Robben knew he had just missed the chance of the match, and one his side’s display barely deserved.

Ten minutes later Spain had a great chance of their own, Navas’s low cross going through the legs of Johnny Heitinga, booked minutes earlier for a foul on Villa. The ball fell to the new Barcelona striker but Heitinga recovered well to block.

Bert Van Marwijk made a positive change, replacing the eternal industry of Dirk Kuyt with a pacy attacking threat, Eljero Elia. But Spain began to turn the screw, keen to avoid the penalty shootout that the Netherlands had clearly come to play for. Xavi and Iniesta combined with typical beauty, Iniesta’s shot blocked at the near post. Then Sergio Ramos was presented with a free header at a corner but inexplicably headed over. Iniesta struck again after combining with Alonso on the left flank, Heitinga recovering after the Barcelona midfielder took one touch too many. Holland got a foot to the ball and hoofed it clear, but there wasn’t an orange shirt to be seen and Spain came forward yet again.

Again, Robben had a chance to steal it, easily beating Puyol for pace and taking aim from the edge of the area. Puyol appeared to have his hands around Robben but for the first time in his life the Dutchman stayed on his feet. He was momentarily off balance and Casillas was out smartly to smother the ball. A remonstrating Robben was duly booked for dissent.

Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas has spent this World Cup getting a feel for what it is like to spend your life sitting on the bench watching Xavi and Iniesta stroke it about, fine preparation for his supposed impending move to Barcelona, but finally got some time on the pitch, replacing Xabi Alonso three minutes before the end of normal time. He played Alonso’s deep-lying role when Holland had the ball but charged forward when Spain were in possession. But the last chance of normal time fell to Wesley Sneijder, who ensured the Netherlands didn’t commit too many players forward by shooting hopelessly wide and short from the half way line as orange shirts broke in numbers.

Extra time had seemed inevitable from the first five minutes, and so it proved. Fabregas had the first chance, clear on goal but a strike from his less favoured left foot was an easy save for Stekelenberg. Iniesta wasted options either side of him and was crowded out as he went to shoot. Jesus Navas briefly had half the crowd in raptures but his deflected shot had struck the side-netting.

Though it seemed impossible the Dutch had retreated even further into their defensive shells. The gameplan was simple and far removed from Total Football: don’t concede, and anything else is a bonus. Finally their cynicism got its due reward after 19 minutes of extra time, Heitinga picking up a second yellow for pulling Iniesta back on the edge of the area. Robben should have gone minutes later for putting the ball in the net long after the whistle had gone for offside, Webb kindly, but incorrectly letting him off with a final warning.

An estimated 700m viewers worldwide were getting themselves comfortable for penalties when finally Spain struck. Fernando Torres sent over a weak cross but the ball fell to Fabregas. The Arsenal captain rolled the ball square to Iniesta whose sublime first touch gave him plenty of time to pick his spot. He lashed the ball across Stekelenberg who got a hand to it but could not save a goal that Spain, in the context of Holland’s tactics, richly deserved.

So Spain become World Cup champions for the first time in their history, and while they may not have done so in the thrilling style their form over the last two years had suggested, they deserve a vast amount of credit for sticking to their style in the face of highly physical opposition. Every single side they have faced has set up to defend and, that opening match aberration against Switzerland aside, they have broken through. In defence they have had little to do but have been resolute when required. Their midfield is unrivalled. Any side with David Villa in attack is going to prosper, and Fernando Torres likely woke this morning, realised how it feels to win without playing well and without expectations resting solely on your shoulders, and asked himself why he should bother going back to Liverpool.

Holland have lost a third World Cup final but their 2010 side will not be so fondly remembered as the thrilling teams that lost the 1974 and 1978 finals. Had their negative tactics prospered it would have been the most undeserving of wins. Predictably Webb has been the focus of much ire in the Dutch press this morning but he was given no choice by most of what was put in front of him. That the Netherlands threw their attacking instincts out of the window in an attempt to foul Spain out of a first World Cup says much about Bert Van Marwijk’s instincts. However it says an awful lot more about a Spanish team who, at their best, give you little alternative.

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Germany 0-1 Spain

We were twenty minutes away from decrying Spain as suffering from Arsenal syndrome. All pretty passing but no penetration and no plan B. But Carles Puyol’s 73rd minute header put this Spanish side into the World Cup final and put its performance into context.

Spain’s three matches in the knockout stages have all finished 1-0 and followed a broadly similar pattern: the best passing side in the world tasked with breaking down two compact banks of four, struggling, making a breakthrough and then – only then – looking worthy of their reputations.

Much has been said about Spain’s tiki-taka passing style as an offensive weapon but if this World Cup has shown us one thing it is that it’s equally, if not more effective when defending a lead. You simply cannot get the ball off these guys.

Joachim Löw steered his side through the second round battering of England and the quarter final trouncing of Argentina by isolating and exploiting each team’s principal weakness; drawing John Terry out of the English defence to isolate Matthew Upson, then scoring three goals against Argentina by pressuring their right back position. He was unable to repeat the feat here, quite understandably, as there is not a single Spanish weakness to exploit.

Not in attack, anyway. In defence Löw got it right, his narrow two banks of four forcing Spain wide, forcing them to cross into a penalty area that was either empty or solely occupied by the diminutive David Villa. Once again his side were set up to break at speed: they did not get a chance to do so until a quarter of the match had passed, Podolski fluffing his layoff, playing it fractionally behind an unhappy Mehsut Özil allowing Spain to regroup.

Vicente Del Bosque shocked many by dropping Fernando Torres, then shocked even more by replacing him with the slight, skilful Pedro rather than the physically imposing Fernando Llorente who would have carried the greater aerial threat. Evidently Del Bosque intended to play through Germany rather than around them, but it didn’t really work. It was going to take a perfect cross to make a breakthrough. So it proved, eventually, Puyol and Pique both unmarked at a corner, Puyol getting to it first and thumping a header past a helpless Manuel Neuer.

It was a fairly drab first half, both teams giving each other a little too much respect. Spain kept the ball well but didn’t commit too many men forward, fearful of German counter-attacks. Germany, perhaps understandably, had to concentrate on defence and there were none of the forward runs from Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger that had been seen earlier in the tournament. In other words this was a proper semi-final. Two excellent teams, wary of each other’s talents. In the second half, surely, things would open up.

Well, barely, but after Xabi Alonso flashed two shots wide in the opening minutes of the half it became the most fascinating 0-0 you ever saw, the best attacking side in the world versus the best at counter-attacking. Spain pressed high up the pitch, giving Friedrich and Mertesacker no time to pick their passes. Germany were coming forward but were unable to play through the middle, went wide instead only to find Puyol and Pique, fantastic throughout, equal to every ball that came their way.

Torres’ replacement, the Barcelona forward Pedro, has all the skills but was incredibly frustrating to watch. His ability to beat the same man three times before losing possession brought to mind a young Joe Cole. Torres came on with ten minutes remaining, replacing David Villa who had tired, unable to use his pace to make the most of Spanish breaks as Germany poured forward in search of an equaliser. Pedro broke, Torres in support with only one defender between them and Neuer. Inexplicably Pedro ignored the option of a two yard square pass to an unmarked Torres, opting instead to jink back in on himself, crowded out by a retreating German defence.

Germany barely created a single chance of note and Löw was charmingly sanguine afterwards, admitting his side had been beaten by the best team in the world. The truth is that while Spain may not have been firing on all cylinders they made this thrilling Germany side look thoroughly workmanlike.

Everyone came into this World Cup expecting Spain to be the best attacking side but instead they have been the best defensive one, never really looking like conceding. Questions persist over how they would react to going a goal down – like Germany they have only been behind once in the tournament and failed to find an equaliser in their opening match against Switzerland – and the Netherlands will know that, as it was here and has been in every Spanish match in this World Cup, the first goal will be key.

This has been a World Cup of surprises and Holland will relish going into this match as underdogs. After all the talk of South American dominance this will be the second consecutive all-European final, and we are guaranteed a first-time winner. Roll on Sunday.

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Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands

Still this Dutch side are struggling to find their trademark fluency, but once again it didn’t matter. Holland took a leaf out of Germany’s book, with two second half goals in quick succession sealing their place in Sunday’s World Cup final.

It was a nervy start to the match, Uruguay visibly missing the dynamism of Luis Suárez up front, enjoying plenty of possession but doing little with it. Arjen Robben struggled to impose himself down the right flank and soon switched to the left, Dirk Kuyt taking up his Liverpool position on the right wing. Shortly afterwards the Netherlands took the lead.

Giovani Van Bronckhorst picked up the ball on the left, his first touch into space just begging to be hit, and he obliged, lashing a shot across Muslera off the post and into the top corner from all of 30 yards.

Relaxed by their lead the Dutch started stroking it about nicely. Wesley Sneijder volleyed a pass on the turn to Kuyt on the left touchline, then got it back and played a defence splitting pass to Robben on the edge of the area. The Bayern Munich winger’s attempted backheel to Robin Van Persie had a little too much on it and Jan Muslera was out to smother the ball at the Arsenal man’s feet.

The atmosphere turned briefly sour, first Robben exaggerating contact from Maxi Pereira with an acrobatic fall and trademark pained yelp. Soon after Martin Caceres’ attempted overhead kick caught Demy De Zeeuw full in the face and he quite understandably went down in a heap. Sneijder, unhappy with the challenge, raced up behind Caceres and bumped into him, the Juventus veteran knocked to the floor but up quickly to remonstrate. The referee took his time over a decision while De Zeeuw received treatment, then booked Caceres and Sneijder.

Uruguay had enjoyed a good spell of possession but were unable to do much with it. Once again Diego Forlan got into good positions but without the support of Suarez they seemed destined to be restricted to shots from distance. Forlan duly obliged, his equaliser five minutes before halftime a curling left foot drive that the wrong-footed Stekelenberg might have done better with.

The World Cup’s sole surviving South American side started the second half brightly and Cavani nearly gave them the lead early in the second half, pouncing on a Khalid Boulahrouz error and chipping Stekelenberg only to see it headed off the line. But the game quickly settled down into a scrappy encounter until 20 minutes before full time, when suddenly Holland found their rhythm.

First Robin Van Persie brought down a high ball with a deft touch, backheeled through to Rafa Van Der Vaart whose shot was saved, Robben volleying over from the rebound. There was little style, and a certain amount of controversy, to the goal that gave the Netherlands the lead.

Wesley Sneijder rather scuffed a shot from the edge of the area, Van Persie tried to get a touch on the ball but missed it completely, the ball trickling into the bottom corner past Stekelenberg who had expected Van Persie to divert it to the near post. Replays showed he was just offside, and while he did not touch the ball he surely had enough of an influence on the keeper’s movement for him to have been active and therefore offside.

Just three minutes later it didn’t matter as Holland doubled their lead. Dirk Kuyt’s cross was slightly behind Robben who did brilliantly to get his head around the ball and glance a header in off the near post.

Once again the Dutch, liberated by their lead, tried to play sexy football but failed. Sneijder carelessly gave the ball away in midfield a few times; Robben rounded off a slick counter attack with a tame shot that was easily held by Muslera.

Uruguay pulled one back in injury time, Maxi Pereira taking delivery of a short free kick, cutting in onto his left side and firing into the bottom corner past Stekelenberg. It set up a nervy final seconds but the Dutch stood firm and sealed a spot in the World Cup final for the first time since 1974. Billed as the best team never to win the World Cup, this Netherlands side have got to the final without playing particularly well. Over to you, Germany and Spain.

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Brazil Coach Dunga Sacked

Brazil coach Dunga has been sacked by the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) following their shock World Cup quarter final defeat to the Netherlands.

Dunga – full name Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri – captained Brazil to victory in 1994 but could not join repeat Franz Beckenbauer’s feat of winning the World Cup as a player and coach.

Critics in Brazil took a dim view of what they perceived to be Dunga’s un-Brazilian style of football, a primarily defensive system that led him to leave skilful players, like Milan’s Ronaldinho, out of his squad.

The CBF also confirmed Dunga’s support staff had been dismissed, saying in a statement: “With the closing of the work cycle that started in August 2006 and ended with the elimination of Brazil from the World Cup in South Africa, the CBF announces the dismissal of the technical commission of the Brazilian team.”

Speculation over who will coach Brazil to the 2014 tournament, which they are hosting, is already rife. Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached the 2002 winners and has since had spells with Portugal and Chelsea, has already expressed his interest. However he would not be able to take over until 2012 when his current contract, as manager of Brazilian club Palmeiras, comes to an end.

“It would be wonderful to finish my career coaching a national team in the World Cup in Brazil,” said Scolari, 61. “After my [Palmeiras] contract is over we will see if there is any national team interested for the qualifiers and the World Cup.”

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Argentina 0-4 Germany

Germany dumped another of world football’s supposed superpowers out of the World Cup with a comprehensive drubbing of Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

Argentina came into the match seeking revenge on Germany for the 2006 World Cup quarter final which the Germans won on penalties, but left it thoroughly humiliated, prompting a disconsolate Maradona to admit he did not know if he could carry on as coach.

This was yet another thrilling counter-attacking display with coach Joachim Löw once again showing a degree of tactical acumen that few credited him with coming into the tournament. After plotting last week’s destruction of England by drawing John Terry out of defence, this time Löw had his team concentrate on pressing high on Argentina’s makeshift right-back, Nicolás Otamendi. It was the source of three of Germany’s four goals and Maradona doubtless now regrets not bringing a recognised right-back to the tournament.

Germany came flying out of the blocks, Argentina chasing shadows, and were ahead within three minutes. Bastian Schweinsteiger floated a free kick to the near post and Thomas Müller, the Bayern Munich defender who came into the tournament with one cap and now has four goals in six games, got across his man and nodded into the net, Romero getting a hand to the ball but unable to keep it out.

Once again Bastian Schweinsteiger was Germany’s key man, the Munich midfielder looking a completely different player since switching to the holding role halfway through last season. His dynamism enabled Sami Khedira, normally a defensive midfielder but with a turn of pace that suggests otherwise, to get forward and support attacks.

Ten minutes had passed before Argentina had a decent spell of possession but it came to nothing. Schweinsteiger was keeping a close watch on Messi and Argentina’s attack was just too narrow – Tevez, Higuain and Messi were getting in each other’s way up front and not tracking back. The diamond midfield, bereft of width, invited Philipp Lahm in particular to bomb forward with little fear of reprisal until he reached Gabriel Heinze whose best years are well behind him.

Germany nearly made it two after 25 minutes but Klose somehow fired over from Müller’s low cutback. But the game slowed down as the first half progressed, Germany happy to sit back and consolidate their lead, letting Argentina try to pick their way through them, with little success.

Argentina did put the ball in the net, Tevez squaring a ball to four players in offside positions, but the teams left the pitch at half time separated by a single goal. Maradona clearly had words at half time as Argentina were much improved after the restart. Maxi had a shot well blocked, an Angel Di Maria drive fizzed just wide.

Argentina turned the screw. Maxi chested down to Tevez and Per Mertesacker took the resulting volley full in the face. Manuel Neuer, the young goalkeeper who looked so nervous at times against England, spilled a Heinze shot at the near post and was lucky the ball fell at a defender’s feet. Philipp Lahm was called into action, his last-ditch intervention taking the ball off Gonzalo Higuain’s toe as the Real Madrid striker wound up a shot.

However Germany had shown in their second round match against England that they are most dangerous on the counter attack, and the longer Argentina failed to find an equaliser the more inevitable it seemed that Germany would get a second on the break. So it proved after 68 minutes, Podolski clean through down the left, squaring for Klose to tap home from four yards.

Still Argentina pressed but Germany were calm in possession, one long passing move drawing Olés from the crowd. Six minutes after the second Arne Friedrich made it three, scoring his first goal for his country, though he owes a debt of thanks to Schweinsteiger for the mazy run that took him past three players to the byline, cutting back to the Hertha Berlin defender to tap home at the near post.

Argentina refused to give up but Carlos Tevez rather summed up his side’s afternoon with a 25 yard drive that sailed hopelessly high and wide. Javier Mascherano got the reward his performance deserved, somehow managing to escape a booking until 80 minutes of agricultural fouling had passed.

The fourth came in the 89th minute, another break down the left and cut back to Klose in the middle, but this time Özil sweetly dinked the ball over the last defender, Klose volleying back across the keeper for his second of the game and 14th World Cup goal of his career.

The only bad news for Germany was Müller picking up a second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will miss the semi final against Spain. He pulled up shortly before full time, feeling his hamstring, and was replaced by Peter Trochowski.

But this is small beer in the scheme of things; Löw’s side scored four goals for the third time in this World Cup, and it is to his credit that a side written off by pretty much everyone after Michael Ballack’s injury now surely go into the semi-final as favourites. Maradona was given a thorough tactical schooling by a man who, while not fit to lace the great Argentine’s boots as a player, appears to be the best, brightest coach of this World Cup.

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Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (4-2 pens)

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez came into this tournament a highly-rated prospect, scoring 49 goals in the Dutch Eredivisie last season, yet this morning his is the name on everybody’s lips. He will miss the semi-final after his red card here in the final minute of extra time, and may have made his last contribution to the World Cup should his country fail to overcome the Netherlands in Tuesday evening’s semi-final. But what a contribution.

Depending on which way you look at it Suarez left the pitch in tears last night as either hero or villain. Deliberately, obviously blocking a goalbound shot on the line with your hand in the dying seconds of extra time, earning a certain red card and suspension to keep you out of your first – and your country’s first in 40 years – World Cup semi-final. Talk about taking one for the team.

On the other hand (sorry) you are exploiting the rules in an attempt to deny a continent its first World Cup semi-finalist. But Suarez did not cheat. And that somehow makes it worse; if the law of the sport allows for its players to influence the outcome of a match then the law is surely an ass. This was not denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. It was denial of a goal.

Of course had the bright young tyro Asamoah Gyan scored from the resulting penalty – as he had already done twice in this competition and would do again in the shootout – then there would be no need for this debate. But Gyan struck the crossbar, the referee blew for the end of extra time, and perhaps inevitably Uruguay’s nerve proved stronger.

It had been, too, for most of the first half. Ghana cut nervy figures early on, hesitant in possession, naive in defence. Suarez drew a fine finger-tip save from Richard Kingson, and the Ghana keeper was also alert when a John Mensah deflection sent a corner goalwards. Uruguay had plenty of free kicks and corners but were unable to make much of them.

Anyone who has watched Ghana throughout the tournament knew that they were just going through their usual routine of starting out looking like they were completely out of their depth and knew it, before suddenly becoming brilliant, and so it proved after half an hour. All it took was for Isaac Vorsah to head a corner narrowly wide and suddenly their tails were up.

This is a young, dynamic side and when they are in full flow like this they are among the most watchable teams at the tournament. The speed of their passing and movement unnerved a Uruguay side who had settled down into what they assumed was to be a routine win against a young side rendered helpless by the enormity of the occasion.

Kevin Prince Boateng once again pulled the strings in midfield, and while he has a habit of choosing the wrong option at the most frustrating moments he has surely shown enough for someone to rescue him the prospect from a season in the Championship with freefalling Portsmouth. The breakthrough came in first half injury time, not from Boateng but another Ghanaian with ties to Fratton Park.

Sulley Muntari, FA Cup winner with Portsmouth turned just-about-everything winner with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, struck a left foot shot from 40 yards that caught Lazio keeper Fernando Muslera off guard, the ball curling away from him into the bottom corner.

The game opened up considerably in the second half and pretty much stayed that way until the end of extra time. Forlan drew Uruguay level ten minutes into the second half with a brilliantly struck free kick from long range that left Kingson with no chance. But the teams could not be separated: despite several good chances for Suarez and Gyan neither side could make the breakthrough.

Penalties seemed inevitable until Suarez’s late intervention, blocking a Steven Appiah shot with his chest then Dominic Adiyiah’s effort from the rebound with his palm. After Gyan missed his penalty to that rarest of sounds at this World Cup – silence – Uruguay’s victory in the shootout seemed inevitable and so it proved, Mensah and Adiyiah seeing their kicks saved to break Ghanaian – and most neutral – hearts.

This is a young Ghana side and they will surely be back stronger still in four years’ time. Their achievement in reaching the quarter finals is all the more impressive in the knowledge that they did so without their best player, Chelsea’s Michael Essien. Gyan plies his trade at Rennes at the moment but the 24-year-old seems destined for bigger things.

Uruguay, much like Holland earlier in the day, needed a hefty dose of luck to book their first semi final spot since 1970. Suarez was romantic about his handball afterwards, saying: “The Hand of God now belongs to me. I made the most beautiful save of the tournament.” Diego Forlan called him “a national hero”. In fairness they are both correct in their way; it is not Suarez’s fault the rules allow him to do what he did. The message to Ghana fans bristling at the injustice of it all is well-known and simple: don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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Netherlands 2-1 Brazil

Move over Switzerland: we have a new shock of the tournament. Barely anyone gave the Netherlands a chance coming into this match, and they lived up to expectations in the first half of this pulsating, often bad-tempered encounter. But in a thrilling second half they astonished as Brazil fell to pieces.

Brazil’s was the much brighter start, and they had the ball in the net after just 8 minutes but it was disallowed. Robinho, playing in a free role behind Fabiano, tucked away a cross from Daniel, who was offside.

Just two minutes later Brazil had the lead. Melo broke from midfield and played a through ball straight down the middle of the pitch, perfectly bisecting two defenders as Robinho strode through, finishing low past Stekelenberg.

The Netherlands responded with intent but very little quality. Once again Robin Van Persie was isolated up front, with his midfield resorting to hopeful balls over the top. Apart from failing to track back with Robinho before the goal, Arjen Robben’s contribution was minimal. Twice when Van Bommel and De Jong played him through on the edge of the area he wanted too many touches and was quickly closed down by a mob of defenders.

Van Persie blazed a 30 yard free kick high over the bar. Sneijder took the next one, a daisy cutter that flew a crowd of players, Julio Cesar doing well to hold. In between came the best move of the half but it was not a Dutch one.

Out on the left wing Robinho shimmied then danced past De Jong and Ven Der Wiel, squaring the ball to Luis Fabiano. The Seville striker backheeled into the path of Kaka who drew a fine save from Stekelenberg with a curling shot that was headed for the far corner.

The second half was completely different and Holland drew level after just eight minutes. Michel Bastos cleaned out Arjen Robben on the touchline and should have seen a second yellow card. From the resulting free kick Sneijder sent in a deep cross and Felipe Melo rose to head clear, and he might have done so had Julio Cesar not jumped into the back of him in a laughable attempt to punch the ball clear. The ball bounced off Melo’s head and dropped into the far corner.

If that was surprising, far greater shocks were to come. The Netherlands were suddenly playing with the belief and purpose that they had so lacked not just in the first half but the whole tournament. Their final ball was still hopeless, but it felt like a start.

Brazil were still dangerous on the break – Kaka went close with a side-footed volley that went just wide – but they were shaken by the error that lead to the equaliser and never really recovered. Soon they were behind, Dirk Kuyt flicking on a Robben corner from which Sneijder glanced a header into the corner.

It was now all a question of how Brazil reacted, and they did so terribly. Just five minutes after the goal Felipe Melo saw red for stamping on Arjen Robben. Moments later Robinho reacted furiously after Robben slipped under challenge from Alves and won a free kick. Brazil had lost first their rhythm and now their composure.

Both sides continued to have chances as the game opened up, Brazil chasing an equaliser and Holland looking to make the extra man count on the break, and a quicker man than Dirk Kuyt might have made it three after a slaloming run through the defence, Juan recovering well.

But the Dutch held on for an historic victory which means they will face Uruguay or Ghana in the semi finals, though they will be without De Jong and Van Der Wiel who picked up second yellow cards here. You fancy Dunga will have some tough questions to answer at home as Brazil exit at the quarter final stage for the second World Cup in a row.

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