CAPE TOWN, South Africa » So, a few more Dutchmen have landed on their feet in Cape Town.
It was 358 years ago that the city’s founder, Jan van Riebeeck, sailed into Table Bay from Holland, set foot on shore and is believed to have said, "This would be a pretty good place to hold a World Cup semifinal one day."
Yesterday, his compatriot, Bert van Marwijk, wholeheartedly agreed.
The coach of the Netherlands was in fine spirits after the Dutch team’s 3-2 victory over Uruguay that earned it a place in Sunday’s final, against either Germany or Spain, who play in today’s other semifinal.
He was also admittedly relieved. The Netherlands had built a 3-1 lead in the 73rd minute and was coasting along nicely when Uruguay scored a late goal that made things a little tense. "You just keep your fingers crossed and hope everything goes well," van Marwijk said.
The Dutch did hang on and are back in their first World Cup final in 32 years, or since 1978, when they lost to Argentina, 3-1, in Buenos Aires.
Four years earlier, in 1974, they had also reached the final, only to lose, 2-1, to Germany in Munich. That was Johan Cruyff’s "Clockwork Orange" team, and while he was not drawing any comparisons between 1974 and 2010, van Marwijk did make note of the fact.
"It was a unique generation," he said. "In my opinion, Johan Cruyff is the best football player that ever existed."
And if the Dutch have to play Germany? "I don’t think in terms of revenge," the coach said.
The team that van Marwijk has assembled over the past two years is not like the free-spirited Dutch sides of the 1970s, but it is capable of attractive soccer and it is 6-0 at the World Cup. Yesterday, against a game but outclassed Uruguayan team, it stretched its unbeaten run to 25 games.
GERMANY VS. SPAIN
» When: 8:30 a.m. today
The key for the Dutch is playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who, by reaching the final, is poised to complete a momentous quadruple. Already this season, with Inter Milan, he has won the European Champions League, the Italian Serie A and the Italian Cup.
A World Cup would complete the sweep. "This is unforgettable," he said. "It was a wonderful performance."
The game was almost drab for the first 15 minutes or so and had the crowd of 62,479 shuffling with impatience. Then came a wonder strike.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the Dutch captain who afterward said he would retire after Sunday’s final, found himself with the ball at his feet and acres of space around him.
Van Bronckhorst didn’t hesitate. Not for him the aimless passing and running that had gone before. He let fly with a shot from beyond 25 yards — all the way from his left boot to the top corner of Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera’s net.
The Dutch were on their way.
But it was not going to be that easy. Four minutes before halftime, the Netherlands’ defense momentarily lost track of Uruguay’s unquestioned star, Diego Forlan, in front of the net.
Taking a page out of van Bronckhorst’s book, the Uruguayan hit man fired a swerving shot at the Dutch net from distance. The curve on the ball appeared to completely fool goalkeeper Maarten van Stekelenburg, who got a hand to the shot but couldn’t make the save.
The teams went into the locker room tied at 1-1, van Marwijk tinkered a bit with his lineup and the Dutch took over the game in the second 45 minutes, at least until near the end.
Sneijder conjured up his fifth goal of the World Cup, tying him for the lead with Spain’s David Villa, when his shot from inside the penalty area caromed off defender Maximiliano Pereira’s knee, then off the right post and into the net.
That was in the 70th minute. Three minutes later, winger Arjen Robben made it 3-1 when he headed Dirk Kuyt’s cross from the left in off the left post.
Forlan was taken out of the game six minutes from the end because he was in pain from a thigh muscle injury.
Pereira’s goal for Uruguay in injury time made for some frantic last minutes, but the Dutch escaped with the win.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, who took his team deeper into the tournament than anyone expected as the final South American survivor, was gracious in defeat. "If you had to choose a way of losing, it would look very much like this," he said.