We knew the Dutch were no longer the Total Footballing purists of old, but who would have expected them to become a side reliant on set pieces? The Netherlands, did, in fairness, have other chances in the final minutes of Friday's 2-1 quarterfinal victory against Brazil, but its goals both came from set pieces, both won on the right flank.
It was always going to come down to who won the battle on that side of the field.
Robinho was at the heart of almost everything Brazil did from an attacking point of view. Playing too deep for
He gave warning after seven minutes, coming to the middle, squeezing a ball through to
At that stage, the Dutch seemed washed up, struggling to prevent the supply to Robinho, and then struggling to stop him when the ball was worked to him. Later in the half, Robinho battled through two challenges on the left before playing the ball in to
It seemed then that Robinho was producing one of the indelible World Cup performances, a display that would put to shame his detractors at Real Madrid and Manchester City and confirm once and for all the reality of his nebulous talent.
Robinho was the man the Dutch had to stop, and they did so superbly in the second half. Van der Wiel, who had a miserable first half, pushed tighter on him, while De Jong was shifted across, not quite in a man-marking role, but with a clear objective to keep Robinho quiet. That left Van Bommel to counter Kaka (with some help from his center backs) and provide cover to help
It was a foul by Bastos -- a lunge that could easily have earned that second caution, even if Robben managed to evade the challenge -- that led to the 53rd-minute free kick from which the Netherlands equalized. It was worked to
Fifteen minutes later, the Dutch scored the go-ahead goal: another corner -- again won down the right -- Robben crossed,
The Netherlands was helped on its way by Melo, who, correctly identifying the danger if not the best way of dealing with it, and presumably unsettled by his own goal, thrust his studs into Robben's thigh and was sent off in the 73rd minute -- as good an image of the way the winger had undone Brazil as there could be.
Brazil had a couple of marginal chances in the closing minutes, the odd cross flashed across goal, but with Robinho now subdued and Kaka having never really found his way into the competition after a poor season at Real Madrid, the creative poverty of Brazil's midfield was exposed. But for a couple of sloppy failures to capitalize on the break, the Dutch would have won more easily.