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Rafael’s introduction made the difference
Guest Column

P.K. Banerjee

There was a Dutch of class in Cape Town on Tuesday. The Netherlands entered the World cup final after 32 years beating Uruguay 3-2. Two goals in three minutes sealed the fate of the Uruguayans who till the second goal were equal to the task. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were the scorers, while Diego Forlan made it 1-1 four minutes before the change of ends.

In the injury-time Uruguayans raised hopes of a dream comeback when Maximiliano Pereira reduced the margin with a smart inswinging left-footer. But it was too little, too late.

The Dutch probably looked a bit more complacent against Uruguay than against other teams in this championship. The Oranje brigade were very uncomfortable and dominated the proceedings only in patches. The Uruguayans, on the other hand, were disciplined and did not provide any space to the much-vaunted Dutch midfield.

Every time the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel or Arjen Robben had the ball, at least three players would close them down. I have feeling that the Dutch were drained out after Friday’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Brazil.

The Uruguayan defence, the tightest back-four in this World Cup, was as usual disciplined and very quickly regrouped every time the Dutch were on the break.

This, of course, till the “Sneijder-man” got his fourth goal of this edition. And once that came the South American’s just threw in the towel.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk gave defensive midfielder Demy de Zeeuw a start but the Ajax player failed to justify his coach’s faith on him. And quite expectedly, Rafael van der Vaart was introduced in the 46th minute to bring more creativity in the Dutch attack. The Dutch started looking more dangerous after that. As Robben started to give more width, it helped Van der Vaart and Sneijder to pull the strings from the centre of the park.

The Netherlands shot into the lead in the 18th minute when captain Van Bronckhorst’s 30-yard stunner crashed into the net. The build-up of goal was, however, controversial with Mark van Bommel intentionally collided with Walter Gargano and how it missed Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov, who was metres away, remained a mystery.

I also feel that Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had enough time and could have made a save. Still, there’s no denying the fact that it was a great strike. For the record, this was Van Bronckhort’s first goal in World Cup finals and what a way to open the account!.

The equaliser came four minutes before the change of ends. And this time Uruguayan captain Diego Forlan who got his name in the scoresheet. Getting a ball in the Dutch half Forlan fooled his marker Joris Mathijsen and unleashed a booming volley which goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg could only manage to get a hand but could not prevent going in. Mathijsen should have closed Forlan down but Edinson Cavani’s dummy run made him cagey.

Sneijder made it 2-1 in the 70th minute when he collected the ball inside the penalty box and then cut inside to unleash a low drive which deflected into the far corner.

In the 73rd minute, Dirk Kuyt whipped in a cross from the left and Robben headed it powerfully into the bottom corner to make 3-1. We generally don’t see Robben scoring off headers but he did it extremely well to score. In the closing stages of the match, Robben made a great run into Uruguayan half but his effort, with only Muslera to beat, was too weak.

I really feel bad for Forlan who had such a great tournament. Despite the loss, the Uruguayans will leave with heads held high. Atleast there was one South American team in the last four.

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