The future is bright, Oranje
Twelve years after a World Cup final, Brazil were again felled by a bald head. It is unlikely Wesley Sneijder would ever score off a header --- the Holland midfielder said so himself on Friday ---- but you think he would care!
When Sneijder steered Dirk Kuyt's back-header into the goal, it showed the coming together of a new Holland team. One that isn't riven by infighting, one which can take the late injury of Joris Mathijsen in its stride, one which, trailing against Brazil and looking like it would be overrun, managed to hit back and one whose passage to the semifinals showed the character their predecessors lacked.
"Well, when I started with Dutch football, I told the officials that I am not going to the World Cup to just take part. I want to be the best. We still have a long way to go. We must really, really concentrate," said coach Bert van Marwijk.
A gritty Holland fightback in the second half showed that Van Marwijk's men can walk the talk. They needed a bit of luck for that to happen though. Arjen Robben won a free-kick by simulating a fall. Played back by Robben, Sneijder swung a cross and the ball grazed the head of Felipe Melo, who had jumped in front of Julio Cesar, and went in.
A clash among equals often turns on such small details. It did at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium here on Friday. Holland turned it on and for the first time in the tournament, Brazil were feeling the heat. Soon after, Brazil were trailing for the first time in the tournament.
Melo, off whose stellar pass Robinho had put Brazil ahead, was then sent off for leaving his studs on Robben's hamstring. Extremely animated for all of the first half, Dunga looked calm after the send-off. Perhaps he had seen the writing on the wall.
"Yes we are all extremely saddened. We had hoped to obtain a different result. We knew it would be a delicate, difficult game. In the first half we could hold our own, in the second we couldn't keep up the tempo," Dunga said.
No one saw it coming in the first half. Brazil scored early and forced Holland to play their way. Robben would always have three Brazilians blocking his view on goal.
Soon after the goal, Kaka came close. When Michel Bastos cleanly tackled Robben, it seemed Dunga's Brazil had a foot in the semi-finals.
But they hadn't reckoned with a Holland fightback. Or, a red card. What we finally got though was some European grit, guile and class in a tournament that seemed to be all about showcasing South America.
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