Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Orange Crush

For the third time in their history, and the first since 1978, the Netherlands will make an appearance in the World Cup Final seeking their first ever victory. In a game that provided thrills, hard tackles, and some incredible goals, the South American continent bowed out to a better, stronger European team. You can argue that missing players, notably Suarez and Lugano and some creative midfielders, would have made a difference for La Celeste. However, with plenty of chances of their own, luck finally sided with the Dutch forcing them to extend their stay in South Africa through the weekend (they only made hotel reservations through the 5th).

The first half was absolutely cracking. As expected, the Dutch held most of the possession and generally found it difficult to get through the Uruguayan defense. Only a wonder strike from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the 35 year old captain, could break the deadlock early on. As if that wasn't good enough, Forlan equalized roughly 20 minutes later with a mesmerizing shot of his own with his weaker left foot. Should Stekelenburg have made the save? His instincts took him one step to the right on impact, and I would imagine most keepers would have done the same. To expect a ball with that kind of velocity and movement is madness. In the end, I'm crediting Forlan. However, Uruguay began to unlock a very shaky Dutch midfield that still has yet to defend and close up gaps like it should.

Still, Van Marwijk's substitution of Van Der Vaart at half time as a replacement for the more defensive minded De Zeeuw showed what seemed like, on the part of the Dutch during the entire first half, a lack of faith in the Uruguayan team to produce goals simply with Forlan. To their credit, Cavani rarely showed himself as a threat for most of the match.

The second half proved somewhat dull with both teams attacking while sacrificing a bit of discipline and possession. Not surprisingly the first menacing dead ball of the second half provided a great opportunity for La Celeste, which Forlan took, forcing a decent save by Stekelenburg. After that though, the Dutch found 2 chances and pounced. First, Sneijder's sneaky shot through about 4 people taking 2 deflections on the way, and Robben's clinical header only 3 minutes later.

Uruguay's second (which in and of itself is one of the better goals of the tournament) came a bit too late, as did the substitution of Abreu who should have been brought on as the third striker much earlier.

I told you it wouldn't be very pretty, and in fact it wasn't. The goals were pretty, the game wasn't. But that's how it's gone for both these teams, getting themselves through the toughest of positions with resilience and determination. For Uruguay, hats off to them. 100-1 odds to win the whole thing when we began in June. Yet, they exceeded everyone's expectations with ferocious defense and a strike partnership that rivalled the best. A special note to Diego Forlan - one of my favorite players on this planet. Goals with his right foot and left, set pieces, exquisite first touches (if you haven't noticed already, I have a special affinity towards players who use both feet effectively). He truly was one of the stars of this World Cup and we should all be thankful we got to witness his magic on the pitch.

Congratulations to the Oranje. Perhaps not the total football of the 70s, this team is taking care of business and will be tough to beat in the finals.

SIDE NOTE: Robben's diving wasn't as bad this game as it has been. What IS bad is Mark Van Bommel - the biggest and dirtiest schmuck in this tournament. The Netherlands have committed the fourth most fouls of any team in this tournament with 82 - Van Bommel leads the team with 14. They also have the second most yellow cards with 12 - Van Bommel only has 1!! I don't really know why the referees have not booked this guy enough but he's scum and his performances this World Cup have been a disgrace to this game.

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