At last. It took until three quarters of the way through its 3-2 semifinal victory against Uruguay, but the Netherlands that sparkled in its last three pre-tournament friendlies finally arrived at the World Cup on Tuesday. It is not the fluency of Oranje myth (
Perhaps its form was awakened by the introduction of
As the game settled into a pattern, the Dutch began to dominate possession, which was only to be expected. As a basic axiom, when all else is equal, a triangle will dominate a line, at least in terms of retaining the ball: The 4-2-3-1 shape of the Dutch, with its central W, presents a series of three interlocking triangles as opposed to the flat line of the Uruguayan 4-4-2.
The opening goal came after a sustained spell of passing, but the key to creating the space was a foul by
That was tough on Uruguay, not merely because of the foul in the build-up, but because it had largely achieved its objective of shutting down Robben. Without the suspended
That ploy, in fact, indirectly led to the equalizer. Frustrated, Robben tried his luck on the left, switching with
Uruguay began the second half the better as well, and Forlan drew a fine save from Stekelenberg with a dipping free kick. But the game turned on a seemingly aimless up-and-under midway through second half. It fell for Van Persie, who laid it off to Van der Vaart, and
It was Robben, though, who was the architect of the Dutch's second goal, cutting in from the left flank. Prevented from turning toward goal by the excellent Caceres, he carried on along the top of the box, and the ball was worked to Sneijder. His shot was deflected, passed under Van Persie's foot and squirmed past Muslera. If Van Persie was offside, he was surely interfering and the goal shouldn't have stood, but the decision looked borderline and, given the guideline to give the benefit of the doubt to the forward, was probably -- just about - fair enough. Two minutes later another flurry of passes created space for Kuyt on the left; he crossed superbly and Robben buried a fine header.
Suddenly the sharpness was there again, and the Dutch could have had two or three more. As soon as the Netherlands began sweeping forward, though, it became defensively vulnerable, and the goal it conceded to
That will have to improve if the Netherlands is to win the final, but it's hard to be too critical about a side that has won six out of six and seems slowly to be moving through the gears. If a historical parallel is to be found, it is not with the Total Footballing Netherlands side of 1974, but perhaps with France of 1998, whose momentum built with each passing round until it became unstoppable in the final.