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.