Uruguay had been one of the tournaments success stories in 2010. They had topped group A, eased past South Korea in the pouring rain in the Last 16 and snuck past Ghana in the Quarter Finals. It wasn’t just the opposition that was tricky, they also had to play with their hands covering their ears to drown out the sound of those vuvuzelas (this is not historically accurate). When it came to playing the Netherlands, in the World Cup Semi Final in Cape Town, it proved to be one game too far. The Dutch had been on scintillating form in South Africa. Their route had not been the toughest, but they disposed of every opponent with relative ease, including pre-tournament favourites, Brazil. The game had exciting end-to-end thriller written all over it, and it truly delivered. There were some excellent goals in the game, but the first was the pick of the bunch.
Mark van Bommel faked a superb dummy in the middle of the field, seeing the ball continue through to Demy de Zeeuw. De Zeeuw played a neat one-two with a team mate, then playing a pass wide to Giovanni van Bronckhorst on the left side of the pitch. The Feyenoord left back took a couple of touches and struck a breathtaking shot from well outside the penalty area. Few players had been able to harness the power of the infamous Jabulani football, but van Brockhorst struck the ball as true as one could hope for, watching it sail past Fernando Muslera and strike off the post and into the net. It was one of the World Cup’s greatest ever goals, both for the technique and the fact that it proved crucial in the end.
Uruguay found their way back into the match, less than five minutes before the half time whistle. Walter Gargano gathered the ball just beyond the halfway line, ignoring the offside body of Edinson Cavani and instead passing to Diego Forlan. Forlan faked a shot from distance, causing Joris Mathijsen to turn his back, leaving Forlan with space to exploit. Diego Forlan took on the opportunity to utilise this space, dribbling forward a few extra yards before unleashing a powerful shot on goal. The shot hit off the palms of Martin Stekelenburg and dropped in to the net. The Netherlands had been the dominating side in this match, yet Atletico Madrid centre forward had given his side a much needed lifeline.
Into the second half and Giovanni van Bronckhorst launched a high ball up and over the defence. Robin van Persie latched onto the high ball, twisting and turning his way through the box, cutting a pass back to half-time substitute Rafael van der Vaart. Van der Vaart saw his shot tipped wide by Muslera, with Arjen Robben cannoning the rebound over the bar.
With the game 70 minutes old, the pressure was growing higher and higher, and consequently, the vuvuzelas grew louder and louder. Arjen Robben rose to the occasion, taking the ball on the right flank and dribbling infield. He avoided the Cavani challenge, playing a square pass to van der Vaart. Van der Vaart played the ball to van Persie, and he passed it to the left edge of the box, to the feet of Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder cut onto his right foot, shimmied past a defender and curled his shot into the bottom corner. The ball looked to have taken a deflection off the foot of van Persie, a point that Diego Godin stressed forcefully to the referee. The replays showed that the ball did in fact take a deflection, not off van Persie though. The ball hit off Maxi Pereira, spinning the ball off its natural course and beyond Fernando Muslera.
The Dutch had been playing at a feverish pace going forward and had got their just rewards. Uruguay committed more men forward in desperate search of an equaliser. In fact, they were so offensively minded that they ended up conceding a third. Sneijder passed out right to Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt put the ball on his right foot, cutting in and hitting a gentle cross into the middle of the penalty box. Arjen Robben adjusted his run to meet the ball and lose his marker, powering his header into the bottom left corner. His goal was so well placed that Muslera was rooted to the spot. The collective sigh of the Uruguayans was telling, they were a team that looked like they had gone a stage too far.
Uruguay pushed men forward, but with the Dutch two goals ahead, the challenge proved too much. Deep into injury time and Uruguay pulled a consolation goal back. In the 92nd minute Walter Gargano stood over a free kick 35 yards from goal. Maxi Pereiera ran wide of the ball as the free kick was about to be taken. Eljero Elia anticipated the pass and ran out to meet Pereiera, but a couple of seconds too late. Pereiera cut inside, wrongfooting Elia, and from the edge of the box, curled a shot with his left foot into the bottom corner.
There was less than a minute left, but this goal gave Uruguay a glimmer of hope, a chance, even if it was a slim one. It
turned out to be false hope. Uruguay had managed to force their way up the field again, however the referee blew his whistle before any real effort was made.
It was an eventful game, two exciting teams throwing all they had at each other, creating quite a goal fest in the process. The semi final was entertaining, certainly more competitive that if it were Ghana who had qualified instead of Uruguay. Luis Suarez was an influential player to miss, although with a front pair of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan, the South Americans certainly weren’t lacking in quality in the forward department. The Dutch had dismantled yet another side on their route to the final, though with a game against Spain lined up for the final, the Dutch would have to bring their A-game. There was an abundance of memorable moments in this World Cup Semi Final, none were as memorable as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s 18th minute wonder striker. This Netherlands performance ensured that Uruguay were denied the chance to play in a World Cup final, a feat that they hadn’t managed in 60 years.
Tomorrow’s game: July 7th. Brazil v Netherlands. 1998.