July 6th 2010
Semi-finals are strange things; 90 minutes from glory and 90 minutes from also-rans - yet I've never forgotten any semi-final involving any team I support. They are all indelibly etched on my mind both good and bad, and by Thursday there are going to be supporters of all four nations who will feel the same way. Let's hope for the neutral at least, the matches are worthy of the occasion.
Holland 3 Uruguay 2
Venue: Blagg Acres
Sustenance: A bottle of Amstel Beer
Lady B has contacted her friends' husband - he's Dutch, by the way - to recommend me some sustenance for the final. The Dutch beer is fine but I need to sample more than some cheese to give me a boost for Sunday, this Netherlands side demand this level of commitment at least.
I've been surprised at how everyone has regarded Uruguay throughout the World Cup. Coming into a tournament like this with players like Forlan and Suarez in such fine form is always going to give you a chance, when you add to that good organisation and an ability to shut other teams down then it was obvious that Holland were going to have to play pretty well to overcome the South Americans. They weren't exactly at their best but still had too much in reserve for a gutsy Urugyan side.
There were many who think that the punishment didn't fit the crime when Suarez was banned for one match for his blatant handball in the quarter-final against Ghana but it has to be said that the loss of the prolific scorer - ironically his goals coming for Ajax in the Dutch league - did work against Uruguay in this match and, although Folan worked hard and scored a good goal, the South American continents last representatives came up just short against opponents who made the most of their opportunities.
It was the Dutch captain Van Bronckhorst who brilliantly put his side in front after 18 minutes with a superb goal from distance before Diego Forlan equalised from 40 yards just before half-time with a goal that brought Uruguay back into a match they then looked in danger of being edged out of. I thought the criticsm of the Dutch keeper who failed to get a strong hand on a wickedly swerving ball was a little harsh.
The second half was a tense affair and their was a feeling that extra time was looming when Sneijder's shot deflected off Maxi Pereira after 70 minutes to slip into the corner of the Uruguyan net. There was a momemt of surprise as Sneijder looked at the linesman because Robin van Persie - who had tried to flick at the ball but had missed - appeared to have put himself in an offside position as a result. Replays showed the Arsenal man was marginally off but it would have needed superhuman senses by the linesman to have spotted it and the goal stood in what seemed to be a sligtly subdued fashion.
That changed three minutes later though when Robben rose like an old-fashioned centre-forward to head home Kuyt's cross to put the Dutch 3-1 up. It looked all over until Uruguay got a late second through Pereira's strike from the edge of the area and there then followed an exciting couple of minutes as the Dutch fell back in numbers as Uruguay laid seige to their opponents penalty area and nearly pulled off a shock as bodies were thrown in the way of shots and last ditch tackles were made as Holland's goal became like a magnet. But the South Americans couldn't find a third goal to take the game into extra-time which might, in retrospect, seem fortuitous being as they had already replaced Forlan six minutes earlier.
For Uruguay, the dream is over but they leave with their heads held high. For Holland, thoughts turn to 1974 and 1978 and the chance to pull off what the glory side of Johann Cryuff and friends failed to do. I suspect the support of the nuetral may be with them.
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