The Netherlands came from behind to break Brazilian hearts and take a huge step towards a third FIFA World Cup™ final appearance. Trailing at half-time to Robinho’s early goal in Port Elizabeth, Bert van Marwijk’s men drew level through Felipe Melo’s own goal before Wesley Sneijder headed the winner with 22 minutes remaining. Brazil ended the game a man short after Felipe Melo’s dismissal as, like in Germany four years ago, the South Americans, unbeaten since last October, saw their dreams of a sixth world crown dismantled at the quarter-final stage.
For the Dutch this was their fifth straight win at these finals and leaves them one victory short of a first Final appearance since they finished runners-up twice in the 1970s. They will travel to Tuesday’s Cape Town semi-final against Uruguay or Ghana as favourites despite the suspensions of Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong. History will be on their side too, given the winners of the countries’ three previous FIFA World Cup meetings marchedon to the Final each time
It was not the Dutch, but Brazil who looked likely to prevail in the first 45 minutes. Netherlands coach Van Marwijk was forced into a last-minute change of plans when Joris Mathijsen injured a knee in the warm-up, his place in central defence passing to Andre Oioijer. There was worse to come as Brazil found their stride swiftly. Robinho had already had one effort ruled offside when he broke the deadlock in the tenth minute. Advancing unchecked from inside his own half, Felipe Melo played a ball straight through the centre of the Dutch defence from the halfway line. Robinho, free of his marker Van der Wiel and played onside by Ooijer, was in the clear and he tucked a first-time finish beyond Maarten Stekelenburg.
The Dutch sought an immediate reply when Kuyt tested Julio Cesar with a low drive but Brazil were carrying the greater goal threat and, after 25 minutes, they came close to a second. From a half-cleared corner, Dani Alves, out on the right, drove in a low cross and Juan got there first only to shoot over from close range. Robinho then wriggled away from two orange shirts on the left, gave the ball to Luis Fabiano and his flick set up Kaka whose curling shot was bound for the top corner before Stekelenburg reached out his right arm to palm the ball away. While the Netherlands had barely tested Julio Cesar, Stekelenburg had to react sharply again before the half-time whistle, Maicon’s first-time drive from the right corner of the box drawing another fingertip stop.
The teams’ 1994 quarter-final, won by Brazil, produced five second-half goals and this game grew as a contest after the restart. Second-best in the first half, the Dutch drew level within eight minutes. Sneijder had already miscued an attempted volley when, following a short free-kick with Robben, the Inter midfielder swung in a cross from out on the right. Julio Cesar and Felipe Melo got in each other’s way with the midfielder unwittingly flicking the ball on into the net.
Michel Bastos, booked before the break and under pressure from Robben, now made way for Gilberto Melo but Brazil were looking self-assured than in the first period. Although Kaka guided a volley just past the post, the Dutch soon had their second goal. It came from an unlikely source, the head of Sneijder who profited from slack marking in the six-yard box to nod home his third goal of the finals after Kuyt had flicked on Robben’s flag-kick.
Brazil’s prospects dimmed further with 17 minutes remaining with Felipe Melo’s red card for a stamp on Robben. Kuyt made a vital clearing header when Stekelenburg failed to deal with one Maicon corner though in a frantic finish the Oranje might have added to their advantage, notably when Sneijder scuffed a shot at Julio Cesar.
For more information, visit http://www.fifa.com