… It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a match as much as I did the 2010 FIFA World Cup semifinal between Holland and Uruguay.
The match had just about everything you could ask for – quality individual skill, good team play, some stunning goals, and a fervent attempt at a comeback that had everyone watching on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.
Going in, I had expected Holland to handle Uruguay pretty easily. Without the suspended Luis Suárez, I thought it was going to be too much to ask of the super-talented Diego Forlán to carry his team and his nation on his back and into Sunday’s final. With so many more potential weapons, I figured Holland would get the goals it needed to take command, and concentrate defensively on shutting down Forlán to go a couple goals clear and move on.
It didn’t exactly play out that way, and the game was thrown on its ear early on when Giovanni Van Bronckhorst blistered the ball from a solid 30 yards out (at least), scoring into the far upper corner just over the outstretched hand of Fernando Muslera. It was a wonderful strike, the kind that just makes you stand up from your chair and react, then wonder how the hell he did it. Of all the possible goal scorers for Holland that Uruguay had to worry about, seeing Van Bronckhorst beat them had to be a shock.
But Forlán showed once again why he’s been a star throughout this tournament, drawing Uruguay level with a rocket from straight on that beat Maarten Stekelenburg, a shot commentator John Harkes felt Stekelenburg should have had – and perhaps he could have read the shot better to get two hands on it – but to me, that’s just a great hit by Forlán. He deserves full credit for the strike.
Still 1-1 well into the second half, Uruguay were getting the game they wanted, but they couldn’t hold it. Goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, the latter on a powerful header that Muslera could only stand frozen and watch, gave Holland a 3-1 lead and seemed to turn the lights out on Uruguay.
But one issue Holland have had at times in this tournament is the inability to truly put games away. Both in this match and their 2-1 win over Brazil, there were multiple clear opportunities for Holland to increase its lead and eliminate any doubt. When those chances have arisen, however, the Dutch have been sloppy and careless, and yesterday, it almost cost them.
Uruguay’s Maxi Pereira cut the margin to 3-2 in the 92nd minute, when on a free kick from dangerous territory, Pereira ran into open territory before the kick was taken, and newly introduced Holland substitute Eljero Elia was too slow on the uptake to pick him up, giving Pereira his shooting space.
The final couple minutes then elapsed with Uruguay frantically attacking the Holland penalty area, but never able to draw level. The task was made harder because Forlán had been subbed off in the 84th minute for Sebastián Fernández. At the time, with the score 3-1 and most things going Holland’s way, it appeared to be a noble departure for the man who had brought so much to this World Cup. In the end, however, he wasn’t on the field when his team needed him most. Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez caught a lot of grief for this sub, given his team’s furious fightback. This story on FIFA’s web site indicates Forlán may have been carrying an injury, but the specifics of it were not given.
Either way, it doesn’t diminish what Forlán accomplished during this tournament, and it really was a great run for Uruguay. A past champion dismissed as an old relic no longer relevant on today’s soccer landscape, Uruguay did far more than make itself important again – it was involved in some of the most tantalizing moments of this tournament, and they deserve full credit for making the final four.
Holland, meanwhile, now stand on the cusp of history. The often repeated phrase, “Best country to never win the World Cup,” has been echoed by the ESPN talking heads repeatedly. All of that can be erased in 90 (or 120) minutes of quality soccer come Sunday’s final, which will see them matched against either Spain or Germany. The latter two meet in today’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal on ESPN. I, of course, am hoping Holland does it – not just because I picked them before the tournament, but I think it would just be great to see. They have such great support, have produced such great players, and they’ve been a joy to watch in this tournament, outside of some of Robben’s embellishment – but that was a known quantity before the tournament started.
But no matter what happens for Holland Sunday, and to a lesser extent, for Uruguay in Saturday’s third-place game, I’m glad I got a chance to see their clash yesterday. Great fun, great match, and another wonderful memory from this 2010 World Cup.
Germany 2-1 Spain
* I can’t not go with the German machine here. Spain is a great team, and this should be a tense match, but the Germans seem to have all the answers right now. I’ll go with Miroslav Klose to get one of the German goals, putting him level with Ronaldo for the all-time lead.
Tuesday’s Record: 1-0.
Tournament Record: 35-26.