Netherlands 3, Uruguay 2
What a match. A semifinal couldn’t promise any more than that. Five goals, incredible tension, brawling, stonewall defense – and the best team won. But for tonight, history and defeat are nothing. The Dutch are in the Final of the World Cup, and nothing can stop them now.
The match was kicked into gear early, with van Bronckhorst’s cracker – a definite candidate for goal of the tournament. Holland quickly found themselves lucky because their cautious approach the first half was safeguarded by a goal. However, if there were any player in the tournament that could singlehandedly prop up Uruguay, it was Diego Forlán. Although commentators labeled the goal a ‘keeper’s mistake’, any sensible viewer could see that the goal was merited, as the left-footed strike broke hard left and back right, to slipped past Stekelenburg. The turning point of the match could not be seen, but rather felt, as the Dutch took the field with confidence starting the second half.
All of a sudden, Uruguay took charge and were looking incredibly dangerous, especially against a shoddy Dutch passing game that proved to Uruguay’s benefit. Something needed to give, or it started looking like Uruguay could run away with the upset of a lifetime. When the match looked most bleak for the Dutch, Sneijder did what he has done all year – worked magic. A cheeky little goal came about off a deflection and a borderline offside call. Who cares? It’s easy to be greedy and ideological about your football, but at the end of the say, it’s about winning. Merely four minutes later, Robben put the elegance back in voetbal.
It was all celebratory at this point. Those shots from Amsterdam made me ache to not have been there. Although if I had money, I could fly there now and join in, as all of the Netherlands will be partying with their Heinekens, diving into their filthy canals for the next week. What a scene! But just as the flares burst into the night, Uruguay scored with a sneaky little piece of brilliance in stoppage time. Despite their best efforts, the Dutch held out, and secured a spot in history. I am proud of the Oranje, van Marwijk is a genius, and we’re through to the final.
While I’m here, I’ll offer my thoughts on who I want to see in the final. Because both Germany and Spain are, in my mind, about equal in talent, I do not fancy one side over the other. Either way, whether it’s Müller or Iniesta, Schweinsteiger or Xavi, or Villa or Klose – the Dutch will have to be at their best to find a positive result. So, it comes down to the significance of the matchups. A final with Spain would be very interesting; both sides having never won the Cup would make for an epic and unforgettable final, regardless of the victor. Plus, Spain plays spacious, beautiful football in the Dutch style, so the match would be a real thriller (as opposed to the France v. Italy fixture). Even with tempts of a Spain-Holland final, the idea of continuing one of Europe’s most passionate rivalries tempts me so.
Many Americans completely disassociate the horror of World War II with modern Germany. The war is 65 years in the past, and is looked at as one of America’s most glorious hours, in the States. But in Holland, the devastation is still too real. 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and sent to German concentration camps, cities like Rotterdam were reduced to rubble, the free streets of Holland were occupied with a soldier at every corner, and over 200,000 men and women were killed (1/50 people). Holland has maintained a “forgive, but never forget” vie towards the Germans and like in many parts of Europe, the football pitch is the battlefield for retributions. The 1974 World Cup final was deemed by the Dutch as payback for prior horrors – the Dutch were the best side in the world, after all. There was much to play for, with players like Wim van Hanegem saying "I didn't give a damn about the score. 1-0 was enough, as long as we could humiliate them. I hate them. They murdered my family. My father, my sister, two of my brothers. Each time I faced Germany I was angst-filled.” And the Dutch lost 2-1. As the older War generations died out, the rivalry became less historically based, and more football-based, but even in modern Holland, don’t drive a German plated car and expect to not get keyed. I do not attempt to justify the rivalry, but only to understand and explain it.
The thought of final retributions for the embarrassment Germany has caused the Dutch is awfully seductive. Even in light of a historic Spain-Holland match, I think my support will lie with Germany – for now.
For the first time since the opening game against France, I was extremely nervous and uneasy about this game against the Netherlands. La Celeste wrestled a point out of that first game by playing highly defensive and careful soccer; the kind of soccer that is the worst to watch. This is kind if game that Uruguayans everywhere were hoping for, because a high-scoring match undoubtedly favored the Dutch. This need for defensive football was even greater considering that we were missing national hero Luis Suarez. The scoring duties rested on the shoulders of Diego Forlan.
I couldn’t help but think that, with the end to the last game against Ghana, Uruguay had outlived its sell by date; if we were a cat then we were on our 10th, 11th, or 12th life. Uruguay, over the course of this World Cup, has become the team that everyone loves to hate. First, we followed up a great opening game to this cup, Mexico-South Africa, with a horribly unentertaining affair against the French, essentially setting the tone for the low scoring, defensive-minded football that dominated that opening round. But we got our point. Second, we beat the snot out of the host country, South Africa, by a score of 3-0, essentially crushing all hope for the home side. But we got out of the group stage. Lastly, the Luis Suarez “hand of god,” or hand of the devil depending on who you ask, eliminated Ghana, the last lone possibility of World Cup advancement for the African continent. But we got to the final four instead.
In the end it was too much to ask for one last miracle, one final Houdini escape from sure defeat. Our hopes for Uruguay’s third World Cup are now finished. The breaks and luck that went our way during the last three weeks all went for the Dutch today.
The writing was on the wall from the 18th minute onward. An amazing strike from a Dutch defender was matched by the never say die equalizer from the foot of Forlan. The 69th minute goal for the team from the Netherlands was not called offside – although it could have been. The third goal, headed in by Bayern Munich’s Robben, seemed to seal the deal, although Uruguay grabbed a goal back a few minutes into stoppage time that made the pro-Dutch crowd as queasy as a potential matchup against their bitter rivals, the Germans. A potential handball by the Netherlands was not called either, and the Dutch team wasted the remaining time in the game by trying out for the next Summer Olympics. As they have throughout this Cup, they dove more than Greg Louganis.
Despite the bitter taste in my mouth it is hard to be too upset. Uruguay should be proud of all they have accomplished. They were the last team to qualify for the World Cup by beating Costa Rica. Now they get to play one final game, this time at full strength, with the hope of finishing in third place. If you had asked any of us if we would have been happy with this performance before the start of the World Cup we would have emphatically answered yes. Just don’t ask us that question now; it still hurts too much to answer with a clear head. Oh well…its only two more years until qualification for the next World Cup begins anyway. I’ll see you in Brazil. But first, let’s grab third place. It’s all that we have left to play for.