WC Fields [semi] — Uruguay v Holland

Those who only follow the fortunes of the big-name teams miss some of the very best matches.   The crowds show up for Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, USA, England.  There were only 3 of us in the pub to see Uruguay-Holland.  Lucky us.  This one was riveting.

With two star player suspended on reds and Lugano — their captain — not fit to start, Uruguay was forced to make changes, upping the pressure on Diego Forlán immeasurably.  Holland had to make changes, too, but with a prized player returning (Mathijsen) and a deep bench, the Dutch were sitting prettier.

Holland threatened right away.  Uruguay shot back, but when Dutch captain van Bronkhorst scored before 20 minutes had gone — a perfectly placed bullet that soared, dipped and apparently hit 61 mph on its 41 yard journey to the far corner of Muslera’s net — it was tempting to believe in Dutch domination and write the Uruguayans off.

Uruguay’s immediate response was a flurry of messy tackles and over-the-top reactions to tackles made by the other side.  About 10 minutes after the goal, a bicycle-kick attempt by Caceras caught de Zeeuw full in the face.  Uruguay collected themselves in the medical time-out and resumed play determined to get back in the game.  Their perseverance paid off at 41 minutes when Forlán took possession about 30 yards out, cut inside and let fly.  Stekelenburg had been an ace in the hole till then, but he’ll hate watching the replay of this one getting by him.

The result (Uruguay 2 – 3 Holland) is a bit misleading.  The last Uruguay goal, snatched by Maxi Rodriguez at 92 minutes, helped make the score more respectable, but Holland at the game sewed up in the 70-80 minute zone, thanks to a gorgeous header from Robben and Sneijder’s slightly deflected, but undeniably on-target strike.

Citing the goals and goalscorers is misleading, as well.  The Netherlands have reached the 2010 Final an undefeated team not because of the individual brilliance of specific players, but because of their fantastic cohesion.  Coach van Marwijk has achieved something remarkable; he’s somehow got his boys to drop their egos without compromising their skills and hit the pitch with unity of purpose, common intention and unselfish play.  Today, Holland is “the best team never to have won the cup.”  Come Sunday, they may just be “the best.”

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