Uruguay 2 Holland 3
Holland will have their chance to exorcise the ghosts of World Cup finals past on Sunday.
Goals from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben secured a semi-final victory over Uruguay in Cape Town and a chance to avenge defeats on the game’s biggest stage in 1974 and 1978.
Bert van Marwijk’s side may not delight like the ’Total Football’ Dutch teams from the playing days of Johan Cruyff.
But having waited so long, the ’Oranje’ will care little for that as the prepare to bring their own glow to Johannesburg in a meeting with either Spain or their 1974 conquerors Germany.
The occasion will also provide captain Van Bronckhorst with the opportunity to end his career in glorious fashion.
The 35-year-old brilliantly put his side in front tonight before former Manchester United star Diego Forlan levelled with a goal that ultimately was not quite enough, even though Maximiliano Pereira’s strike gave a glimmer of hope in stoppage time.
Forlan collected possession 40 yards out and offered space to advance into, he then delivered the kind of shot this hotly-debated Jabulani ball was made for.
Big questions will be asked of Maarten Stekelenburg.
Yet, in super slow-motion, it was hard not to have some sympathy for the giant goalkeeper as the ball shuddered in flight and then found the net with Stekelenburg just out of position.
Stekelenburg’s part in the equaliser ensured Van Bronckhorst’s opener was the better of two eye-catching first-half efforts.
As with Forlan, there seemed no danger when the Dutch skipper received possession in a similar position, far from goal.
Due to retire when this tournament is over, the 35-year-old defender could not have been any more accurate had he placed the 35-yard shot into the net himself.
High to the goalkeeper’s left, so far into the corner that it struck the inside of the post before finding the net, it also had the speed of a tracer bullet, which left Fernando Muslera beaten.
Uruguay had not made their impact in South Africa through dazzling skill and unchecked flair.
They are defensively aware and exceptionally well organised by wily old coach Oscar Tabarez.
Yet the indignation with which Tabarez met legitimate questions about Suarez’s conduct against Ghana was not becoming of a world champion.
So, for all the effort of his team, and the excellence of Forlan, it was perhaps right that Holland should emerge victors.
They took their time about it though as Uruguay’s defence threatened to hold firm, so it took a bit of good fortune to bring about a second goal.
We will never know whether Sneijder’s shot would have gone in without the deflection off Pereira. With it, at such close quarters, it deceived everyone in its wake.
Even Robin van Persie was caught off guard as it flashed through a crowd of bodies so dense Sneijder had to watch carefully to ensure it had found the net.
Three minutes later, Robben rose to power home Kuyt’s cross.
For Forlan and Uruguay, the game was up. For Holland, the glory that proved so unobtainable all those years ago, is in reach again.