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.