Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Wes is More
Even against a defensive and under-strength Uruguay, the Dutch needed someone to step up and win the game for them, given the unexpected failure of Arjen Robben to enforce much penetration. And, for the fourth time in this tournament, it was the Inter playmaker who did so.
The first half was hardly a spectator's delight, with both teams building from very deep and taking few real risks. Although Robben managed to get past Martin Caceres (an excellent choice for the left-back role by Oscar Tabarez, incidentally) in only the third minute, he found the Juventus man a real stumbling-block thereafter.
It was significant that when Robben did get past Caceres in the course of the game, it was on the outside rather than the inside, and the time subsequently lost in Robben bringing the ball onto his favoured left foot helped Uruguay to consolidate their defence in the meantime. Something for Holland's opponents in the final to keep in mind: when in doubt, show Robben the line.
At the other end, Uruguay's midfield found it hard to link up with the front two, as indeed they did against France. Tabarez's understandable decision to stiffen the midfield with the addition of Walter Gargano, rather than bringing in Sebastian Abreu to replace the absent Luis Suarez, stifled the Dutch in the centre but it made it very difficult for Uruguay to create many chances, with Edison Cavani functioning this time as an out-and-out striker rather than a linking player.
Both goals in the first half came out of nowhere, although neither was truly against the run of play. Giovanni van Bronckhorst's breathtaking strike came when Diego Perez had been enticed into the middle, leaving the Dutch captain with some space on the overlap...although few could have expected him to score from the position in which he found himself. At the other end, Diego Forlan again showed his incredible knack for creating space in the midst of several defenders, and let fly with a dipping shot which Maarten Stekelenburg might have done better with - although the mysteries of the Jabulani trajectory played their part again.
Bert van Marwijk's decision to replace the groggy Demy de Zeeuw with Rafael van der Vaart at the break was an excellent one. He had clearly counted on Uruguay being unwilling to come out of their defensive crouch, and he was proved correct, as Holland camped themselves in the opposition half around the hour mark, with Robben, Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt now switching positions frequently and (relatively) effectively.
The fine save that Fernando Muslera made from van der Vaart might have been a crucial moment, especially given that Robben made such a hash of the follow-up. But this Dutch side is psychologically much tougher than previous incarnations, and they kept their heads and indeed went ahead only a couple of minutes later. Was van Persie actively offside? Perhaps, and it's worth remembering that Uruguay were a little unlucky with a couple of offside calls in the first half, but on the whole the Dutch more than deserved the goal.
In many ways Uruguay seemed to lose hope after the goal. The third Dutch goal was simply a result of terribly lazy defending from Diego Godin, who allowed Robben to nip in front of him and win the header far too easily. It was a stark reminder of how badly Uruguay miss Diego Lugano when he isn't there to lead the defence.
Van Marwijk wouldn't be at all happy with the manner in which the Dutch conceded Uruguay's late second, with the Dutch falling completely asleep at a well-worked set-piece (reminiscent of Javier Zanetti's excellent goal for Argentina against England in the 1998 tournament). It was enough to re-awaken a spark in Uruguay which they had lacked for the previous twenty minutes, but it was never going to be enough.
The Dutch through to their third World Cup final, then, and this time they will not be facing fanatical home backing. Although there have been better Dutch sides, it's hard to say that they don't deserve to be there. There is pace, organization, football intelligence and modest flair in this Oranje side, and whoever meets them in the final will have to be at their very best to beat them.
If The Netherlands continue playing as they have their opoonents will NOT have to be at their best to defeat them.
A mundane mediocre team (not in the class of Cruyff and co, not in the class fo Gullit and co, and not even in the class of Bergkamp and co!).
If only the second half of the World Cup was also a round robin tournament to avoid lop sided draws.
And as for uneven sides of the draw in the knockout stage...that's the eternal curse of the World Cup, but it's largely unavoidable in cup competitions.
However, I will concede that if Germany trounces Spain then Holland is more worthy than Spain but ONLY if Spain gets trounced.
It took an unlucky deflection to get the second goal and Uruguay did seem to throw in the towel at 2-1.
Im hoping the winner of Spain and Germany go on to take the title.
I prefer the term "a desperate plea for relevance" myself. ;-)
Having said that, the establishment are not bothered with thinking too hard.
Yep, two goals in a European club final plus leading your country to a World Cup semi is a pretty fine achievement.