The Netherlands is one win away from an elusive world title after defeating Uruguay 3-2 in their FIFA World Cup semifinal Tuesday.
Two of the smallest nations at the World Cup hit the pitch at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town in what was dubbed a David vs. Goliath match. Playing David, Uruguay, the sole South American and lowest seeded team (16th) remaining. Playing Goliath, the Netherlands, a nation rich with football pedigree, yet has never won the big prize.
On paper this may have seemed like a mismatch, but Uruguay was up to the task. The underdogs played a strong defensive scheme, shutting down the dangerous Dutch midfield duo of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben through 45 minutes.
While La Celeste focused on those two players, other members of the Oranje jumped in to help out with defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst scoring his first goal of the tournament 18 minutes into the match.
Just when it looked like the Dutch had full control of the game, however, Uruguay's star striker Diego Forlan broke free and buried a long distance strike off the hands of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to even the game at 1-1 in the 41st minute.
Sneijder and Robben finally found some room in the second half, with both players scoring goals to lift the Netherlands to its first World Cup final since finishing runners-up in back-to-back tournaments in 1974 and 1978.
Playing without breakout striker Luis Suarez, who was suspended for the match after his controversial goal-line hand ball against Ghana in the quarter-finals, Forlan was left to do most of the offensive work on his own.
Uruguay is perhaps the Cinderella team of this World Cup, finishing ahead of South American stalwarts and rivals Brazil and Argentina. Not bad for a team that finished fifth in their regional qualifiers and needed a playoff win against Costa Rica to squeak into the tournament.
What this result means
The Netherlands will move on to the World Cup final on July 11 at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, where it will play the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Germany and Spain.
The Dutch victory guarantees an all-European final.
The turning point
Robben's goal on a beautiful header in the 73rd minute gave them the cushion they needed for the eventual victory.
Goal of the match
In the 18th minute, after a beautiful build up through the midfield, Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst — yes, he of fullback fame — unleashed a blistering strike from 35 yards out over the fingertips of Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, off the post and into the top right-hand corner of the goal.
Man of the match
Robben, when he finally broke free of the swath of La Celeste defenders — in particular Martin Caceres — delivered his usual menacing runs down the right-hand side, which helped tire out the Uruguayan fullbacks and in turn opened up the game in the second half. His game-winning goal in the 73rd minute, a powerful downward header from a Dirk Kyut cross, was a little uncharacteristic for the midfielder, who is more known for his bending strikes on goal.
Honourable mention goes to Forlan, who proved to be a handful for the Dutch every time he touched the ball. His goal in the 41st minute, his fourth of the tournament, evened the match at one goal apiece and he nearly scored another in the 67th minute on a free kick. Forlan will be remembered as one of the stars of this tournament.
The Dutch perspective
"If you win the final, you make yourself immortal, at least in our country. We will do everything we can to take the Cup back." — midfielder Arjen Robben.
The Uruguayan perspective
"We did what we could, we accept the defeat. We're sad because even though nobody gave us a chance, we were close." — coach Oscar Tabarez.