CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The Netherlands finally turned on the style at the World Cup in South Africa to reach its third final — and first in 32 years — with a 3-2 victory over Uruguay on Tuesday.
Wesley Sneijder scored his fifth goal in South Africa and Giovanni van Bronckhorst added one of the goals of the tournament. Arjen Robben also scored as the Dutch never looked troubled despite a late goal from the two-time champions from South America.
“This is unforgettable,” Sneijder said. “It was a tough fight and toward the end we complicated matters. Sunday we play in the World Cup final. I have to get used to that.”
Van Bronckhorst scored with a 35-yard shot in the 18th minute, but Diego Forlan tied the game in the 41st minute with his fourth goal of the tournament, despite playing through the pain of a thigh injury.
“It was bothering me a lot,” Uruguay’s top scorer said. “At times I felt a great frustration because I wasn’t 100 per cent.”
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk replaced Demy de Zeeuw with Rafael van der Vaart at halftime and the attacking move paid off as Sneijder and Robben scored after the break.
Maximiliano Pereira scored for Uruguay in injury time but the Dutch weathered the late Uruguayan pressure, and the Orange-clad fans at Green Point Stadium erupted at the final whistle.
“This is very special,” said Van Marwijk, who took over as coach two years ago. “After 32 years we play the final again. Such a small country. We can be very proud of this.”
Most of the jubilant Dutch squad returned to the field 45 minutes after the match to dance and cheer with a group of about 1,000 orange-clad fans cheering and beating drums.
As the players danced, the fans chanted, “Holland! Holland! Holland!”
“Unbelievable. If you win the final, you make yourself immortal, at least in our country,” Robben said. “It is 32 years since the Netherlands was in the final of a World Cup and we will do everything we can to take the cup back.”
The Netherlands’ only international title came at the 1988 European Championship, but it is now on a 25-match unbeaten run and has won 10 straight as it heads to a World Cup final against either Spain or Germany.
Seen as beautiful footballers but perennial underachievers on the world stage, the Netherlands has played a tougher brand of football in South Africa, aiming to dominate possession and wait for openings rather than carve open defences with creative flair.
“I love attacking and beautiful football, but you have to work together when the opponent has the ball and then you can go a long way,” Van Marwijk said.
It has served the team well — the Netherlands is the only team with a perfect record at the World Cup.
“We are so close,” said Sneijder, who already won the Italian league and cup double and the Champions League this season with Inter Milan. “There is nothing bigger than the World Cup.”
For Van Bronckhorst, who is ending his playing career after the World Cup, it was his first goal of the tournament and only the sixth of his 105-match international career.
He said before the match that he wanted the Dutch to play more beautiful football, and the Netherlands captain showed the way with his stunning goal.
After a flowing passing move, he collected the ball 30 yards out on the left and hit a searing drive that beat the despairing dive of Fernando Muslera and flew into the net off the post.
Forlan’s equalizer was another powerful long-range shot, but Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg should have saved it.
“It’s a shame because we lost a unique opportunity,” Forlan said. “At times we were the ones controlling the game.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez he was forced to substitute Forlan in the 85th minute when he could not continue.
“From the first minute he had a problem. I’m not dumb enough to take him out at 3-1 when the match wasn’t lost,” Tabarez said. “He was injured and could not continue.”
The Dutch put the match out of Uruguay’s reach with two goals in quick succession in the second half. Sneijder’s low shot in the 70th was deflected by Pereira and past Muslera. Then Robben leapt to head home a cross from the left by Dirk Kuyt three minutes later.
“The Dutch can create a goal from any situation,” said Tabarez, whose team had conceded only two goals heading into the match. “These were beautiful goals for football but rather unexpected for us.”
The Netherlands, which lost in the 1974 and ’78 finals, was appearing in the World Cup semifinals for the first time since losing on penalties to Brazil in 1998. It was Uruguay’s first appearance in the final four since 1970.
Uruguay won the title in 1930 and again in 1950, but it reached this year’s semifinals in controversial fashion when Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal line in the last minute of extra time against Ghana in the quarter-finals.
De Zeeuw damaged his teeth when Martin Caceras kicked him in the face attempting an overhead shot in the first half. De Zeeuw was flying back to Johannesburg with the squad and team officials said he would likely have to visit a hospital to have his teeth stabilized. However, he had not sustained a concussion.
De Zeeuw is unlikely to be in the starting lineup for the final as the suspended Nigel de Jong will be available again.
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Khalid Boulahrouz, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder, Demy de Zeeuw (Rafael van der Vaart, 46), Arjen Robben (Eljero Elia, 89), Robin van Persie.
Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Diego Godin, Mauricio Victorino, Martin Caceres, Maximiliano Pereira, Alvaro Pereira (Sebastian Abreu, 78), Diego Perez, Egidio Arevalo Rios, Walter Gargano, Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan (Sebastian Fernandez, 85).