Call it the embracing effect of the Mother City, as the Western Cape capital is also called, or what you will, but it seemed everybody won here on Tuesday even though only Holland are going to the final.
“This team deserves to be commended for showing the necessary profile to play at this level. If I had to choose a way of losing, it would have been this. We have shown the people who love football in Uruguay that this is possible,” coach Oscar Tabarez said after the 3-2 defeat in the semifinal.
Holland’s happiness was understandable. They have come this far after 32 years. When Holland last played a World Cup final, Mark van Bommel, whose ability in central midfield has been crucial to Holland’s unbeaten run here, was one. Andre Ooijer, the only other player on this roster to have been born, was four.
“We are very proud that such a small country has made it to the final. We started work on this two years ago. It has been a long process, one where it was important that you really believed in it. I told the players to not get complacent and over time, through interviews, saw they understood. At half-time today, I told the players don’t let them get away,” said Bert van Marwijk. This was after Wesley Sneijder, who scored the second goal and helped set up the third, exhorted his mates to “savour” being in the final and asking them to do it for “one more 90 minutes. I have played and won the Champions League final last season and I know how important it is to savour the moment, enjoy yourself and give it all you’ve got.”
Sneijder’s angular grounder broke the deadlock after Diego Forlan, who couldn’t finish the game because of thigh injury, had neutralised Giovanni van Bronckhort’s strike in the first half. Both goals came from long-range left-foot missiles. Neither Uruguay’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera nor Holland’s Maaretn Skelenberg had any chance in saving those power-packed shots. Blame it on Jabulani? Sneijder then set up the third, playing on Dirk Kuyt whose cross from the left was superbly headed home by Arjen Robben. From 1-1 till the 70th minute, it was 3-1 by the 73rd. Maxmiliano Perreira did pull one back and Holland survived some nervy moments thereafter to become the first finalists of this World Cup.
Uruguay, Tabarez said, must now “bury the game” and “forget our sorrow to give a good image like we did today” in the third place play-off in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. “We would love to again show the world that Uruguay can play at this level.”
Holland too need to do that, albeit for a greater prize. Van Marwijk said he didn’t have any preferences about whom they play in the final but did talk about the 1974 game, mentioned Johan Cruyff as the greatest player ever but said “in the end we lost.” That’s not something this Holland is ready to settle for.