The first semi-final of this year’s tournament saw two sides who have been grabbing headlines of late clash in Cape Town. Holland were riding high after a surprise victory over Brazil, a result many did not expect. The Dutch squad have been forced to find alternative accommodation in South Africa as they unassumingly only booked their rooms until the 5th July. This has not come without its problems, the players bedded down in the Cape Town branch of The Premier Inn but Arjen Robben complained of nightmares as a result of Lenny Henry’s face being plastered all around the complex. The search continues to find them a more permanent home for the next week.
Uruguay triumphed over Ghana via a series of mental events which saw Luis Suarez going from one of the stars of the tournament to the most talked about outfield player to handle the ball since Maradona. The Ajax striker who notched 412 goals in the Eredivisie last season has already accepted sponsorship offers from vaguely related products such as liquid soap, mittens and oversized foam hands.
While most fans were still bemused over the news that ITV were unable to source so much as a tea lady to step into Jim Beglin’s summarising shoes Holland were beginning to fire. After 18 minutes they were ahead, captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst arrowed a straight drive perfectly into the top corner of the Uruguayan net from all of 40 yards causing an already excitable Clive Tyldsley into superlative overload.
Following an overhead kick, Demy De Zeeuw found himself on the business end of a size 10 boot from Martin Caceres and unsurprisingly hit the deck like a slightly brushed Arjen Robben. The game became a scrappy affair with Tyldsley forced to coin new words such as “Shinanikins” in order to keep himself alert. Uruguay did create chances with Forlan and Cavani both unable to hit the target and test Stekelenberg in the Dutch goal.
After 40 minutes the aforementioned Forlan was determined to prove his “master of the Jabulani” nickname was deserved, striking a ferocious shot from 30 yards into the roof of the Dutch net to equalise. Stekelenberg will feel he could have done more to stop the shot but was ultimately helpless to prevent it going in. The first half ended all square, with most Manchester United fans continuing to question the change in Diego Forlans performances since he left England.
Holland made a change at half time, Rafael van der Vaart on in place of Demy de Zeeuw, who was still searching for the majority of his teeth after his clash with Caceres. Uruguay closed Holland down at every opportunity and it did seem neither side wanted to risk throwing too many men forward in such a crucial game. Mark van Bommel continued his one man wrecking ball antics as he scythed down yet another Uruguyan player, Forlan almost doubling his tally for the evening from the resulting free-kick but Stekelenberg made a good save at his near post.
Holland looked the stronger side going forward though and following a neat series of passes around the edge of the Uruguayan area Wesley Sneijder hit a low shot into the bottom corner of Fernando Muslera’s goal to restore Holland’s one goal advantage. A loitering Robin van Persie arguably interfering with play and subsequently offside as the ball was directed goalwards. Uruguay were shell shocked and it showed, after 73 minutes, Dirk Kuyt floated a perfect ball into the area and Robben dispatched it superbly with his head. That made it 3-1 to Holland and the karma balance of the World Cup was restored once again whilst Luis Suarez squirmed uncomfortably on the bench.
Uruguay looked resigned to their fate as the time ticked away while Holland kept the ball well and looked happy to wind down the clock. Forlan was substituted in the closing stages, pinging his headband into the crowd and injuring a jubilant Dutch fan. But there was yet more drama to this semi final. Following a freekick Walter Gargano found Maxi Pereira and the midfielder curled a delightful left-footed effort past the despairing Stekelenburg to set up a frantic end to the game. Uruguay pushed forward but were unable to find the goal they would need to send the tie into extra time, despite the referee adding a large amount of unjustified extra injury time following the second Uruguay goal.
148 – After Jim Beglin was taken ill, 148 members of ITV staff turned down the opportunity to commentate alongside Clive Tyldsley. Exile.
541 – Mark van Bommel commited a total of 541 fouls, an average of one every 10 seconds and still escaped with only a booking for dissent. Lucky.
12 – Referee Ravshan Irmatov added a total of 12 minutes extra injury time in an attempt to ensure the game ended 3-3 instead of 3-2. Whistle.