Dutch no longer more sizzle than substance
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
CAPE TOWN - If they were awarding style points for the march of The Netherlands to the final of World Cup 2010, the Brazilian judge might be hard-pressed to give them a passing grade.
It hasn't been the most sexy, the most creative, the most bang for the buck by any sense of the imagination.
It hasn't reminded anyone of the so-called "beautiful game," the type of performances that made the likes of Pele and Ronaldo (the Brazilian one, not the Portuguese flameout) World Cup legends in their time.
It hasn't even conjured up memories of Dutch greats of the past, with the likes of Edgar Davids. Patrick Kluivert, Frank Rijkaard. Ruud Gullit and Dennis Bergkamp immediately coming to mind.
All it's done has produced results.
And for a Dutch squad with a legacy of more sizzle than substance, artistic merit has become secondary to victories.
It has been a successful formula thus far. The Dutch are the only members of the entire 32-team tournament to have won each and every one of their matches, grinding out six consecutive victories en route to punching their ticket to the championship game at Soccer City on Sunday.
Here's a look at their path to the title match, a road highlight by big goals from Wesley Sneijder and own goals for the opposition.
- June 14: Netherlands 2, Denmark 0 (Soccer City, Johannesburg)
With the Orange Nation out in full force to see their team's opener at South Africa 2010, the Dutch turned in a moribund first half, a real yawner. But an own goal by Denmark's Daniel Agger, who happened to have a clearing attempt from teammate Simon Poulsen deflect off his shoulder and into the net, put the Dutch up 1-0 and gave them the momentum they needed. While Dirk Kuyt would score a late goal to seal the deal, this would not be the first time an own goal by the opposition would benefit the Dutch. Just ask Brazil.
- June 19: Netherlands 1, Japan 0 (Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban)
Generally a snoozefest. At times, the Dutch simply would boot the ball down the field to relieve the pressure exerted by the quicker Japanese. But Sneijder began his trend of coming to the rescue with an early second-half goal, the only score the Dutch would need.
- June 24: Netherlands 2, Cameroon 1 (Green Point Stadium, Cape Town)
A miserable tournament for Cameroon came to a crashing end when Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored just seven minutes from the end of regulation to give the Dutch yet another unimpressive victory. The Dutch completed a perfect opening round and locked up a date with Serbia in the Round of 16.
- June 28: Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1 (Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban)
The final summary shows that Sneijder scored the winning goal in this Group of 16 match. So what else is new? The big news was that star midfielder/forward Arjen Robben, returning to the starting lineup from a knee injury, scored early in the first half, a huge boost for a Dutch team eyeballing its first World Cup title.
- July 2: Netherlands 2, Brazil 1 (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Remember our earlier reference about own goals? Down 1-0 on a first-half Robinho goal, the Dutch benefited from a Sneijder free kick that ticked off the head of Brazil's Melo and into the net. Sneijder would head one in himself shortly afterward to complete the improbable second half upset in this high-profile qurterfinal. FIFA later would award the first Dutch goal to Sneijder, giving him two for the game.
- July 6: Netherlands 3, Uruguay 2 (Green Point Stadium, Cape Town)
Second-half goals by Sneijder and Robben four minutes apart snapped a 1-1 tie and allowed the Dutch to hold on for dear life in penalty time. Sneijder's go-ahead marker seemed to come with teammate Robin Van Persie in an offside position but it was not called.
It wasn't a work of art. Then again, not much has been for the Dutch has been at South Africa 2010.