Second-half goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben gave Holland the edge in a bad tempered semi-final against Uruguay.
Holland will contest the World Cup final with Germany or Spain on Sunday. The victors have pursued the prize with more illustrious line-ups in days gone by, but this one showed resilience in responding to an equaliser with goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben in the second-half. The 3-1 lead was trimmed by Maxi Pereira's curling effort in the 90th minute, but the Dutch were not to be denied.
The semi-final reeked of history as it pitted South Americans who had won the trophy twice against opponents beaten in two finals. Few anticipated that they would both be in the last four. There was no risk of anyone in either squad being star-struck by the wonder of it all. The problems that had to be dealt with were instead to the fore in the minds of both sides.
Each country had two men suspended, with Holland missing Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong while the opposition were without Luis Suárez and Jorge Fucile. The plight of Uruguay was greater still, however, because they also lacked the injured Diego Lugano and Nicolás Lodeiro. For a small nation whose means can be seen as limited the circumstances looked intolerable, although that misapprehension had been disposed of by the interval.
The football status of Uruguay is remarkable considering that it must draw on a population of a mere 3.3m, but there will always be spells when the limitations are not transcended. Holland imposed themselves from the kick-off with the conviction of men who knew they could neither be forgiven nor forgive themselves if these circumstances went unexploited.
That resolve would falter, but Bert van Marwijk's side had opened with a purpose as they put the emphasis on the width that stretched their opponents painfully. There was discomfort in the Uruguayan ranks and Holland relished the control, even if their 18th minute goal was spectacular rather than planned.
From some 40 yards at an angle towards the left, Giovanni van Bronckhorst connected perfectly with a drive that flew high beyond the left-hand of the goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. Uruguay, all the same, are not the sort of line-up to be discouraged easily and the efforts to respond were heartfelt.
There was briefly a misleading impression that nothing more than aggression would be employed and Martín Cáceres was cautioned for a raised boot that caught the midfielder Demy de Zeeuw on the head. He would be replaced at the interval, but four minutes from half-time the Dutch reeled for entirely different reasons.
Maarten Stekelenburg has received much praise for his sound work as an unheralded Holland goalkeeper, yet he was baffled when Uruguay pulled level after 41 minutes. Diego Forlán, 30 yards from the target, showed all the confidence that has been brimming over in his work for the Europa League winners Atlético Madrid. There was power and movement in the shot, but Stekelenburg was still embarrassed as the attempt flew into the centre of the net.
There had been an assumption on Holland's part that Uruguay could safely be left in possession and they exposed themselves to risk. It had been reckless to act as if the opponents would pose no danger merely because Suárez, Forlán's partner in attack, was suspended. The drive from the captain was speculative, but he also connected cleanly enough to exploit any lapse by the goalkeeper. In essence, the striker levelled with a speculative opportunism that startled a by then passive Holland.
Van Marwijk replaced De Zeeuw at the interval and while the midfielder may have been shaken by his injury, the introduction of Rafael van der Vaart was surely intended to restore impetus. By then, of course, Uruguay were in no mood to be bashful as they recognised that, regardless of the missing persons in their squad, they were not at a ruinous disadvantage.
Ascendancy is only regained with difficulty and Holland had no immediate command despite the alterations. The fixture had a more gruelling air, with each team convinced that they could get to the final yet also nervous that a lapse would be catastrophic. The attacking continued, but sharpness was elusive and a tackle was usually summoned up just when a move started to flow.
Set-pieces therefore appealed and Forlán naturally took one from more than 25 yards out but Stekelenburg read the flight better than he had in the first half and pushed it away. Holland then had a spell in which they recovered their poise in open play. The initial reward was an effort off-target from Robben after Robin van Persie's shot had compelled Mulsera to parry.
Twenty minutes from the end, Dutch forcefulness was rewarded. A Sneijder effort deflected off Maxi Pereira and reached the net, although Uruguay will grumble that the shot may have brushed the shin of Van Persie, who may also have been in a marginally off-side position.
Holland drained some of the venom from any dispute by scoring once more in the 73rd minute. Dirk Kuyt crossed from the left and Robben pulled away from his marker to glance in a header. The Dutch were not to be deprived of one more attempt to win a World Cup final.
© Guardian News and Media 2010
Keywords: 2010 World Cup