Dutch dare to dream of a trek to Soccer City

2010-06-29 00:00

THE Netherlands, perennial under-achievers at such events, are quietly working their way through the 2010 World Cup. Last night’s 2-1 cruise against a plucky Slovakia was certainly their stiffest test to date, and it could easily have been more.

Two scything breaks produced the goals that mattered, but had the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie been a little more ruthless, it would have been a hatful.

The Dutch, playing a style not too dissimilar to the Germans’, broke with devastating simplicity. Wesley Sneijder orchestrated proceedings, but it was Arjen Robben who grabbed the eye with pace and poise on the ball.

Employed on the right, the Bayern ballerina showed us just what we have been missing. Fully recovered from his injury, Robben opened the scoring in typical fashion, cutting inside and unleashing a precise finish on 18 minutes.

From there, the oranges — should that be tangerines — displayed plenty of promise, but some rather scandalous finishing.

Van Persie had two chances within a minute of each other, but his lack of a right foot twice saw him make a hash of good chances.

The Slovaks, conquerers of Italy — remember them?— in the group stages, started with real intent. Vladimir Weiss flashed a drive over the bar as early as the fifth minute, while skipper Marek Hamsik was just wide with his effort a minute later, as the Eastern Europeans threatened to make things interesting.

Robben’s goal calmed matters, and only the winger’s own silliness brought danger to the goal of the beautifully named Maarten Stekelenburg.

Robben’s needless handball saw a dangerous free-kick floated in, but the resulting shot by Erik Jendrisek was so woeful it went for a throw in.

The second period saw much of the same, with Robben almost scoring a carbon copy of his goal, only to be brilliantly denied by the over-employed Jan Mucha.

A minute later, and it should have been two as Joris Mathij­sen hit the keeper in the face from five yards out.

Mucha claimed the save — red face and all — but the Dutch were threatening with far too much regularity not to score.

The second, from Sneijder, came after a wonderful ball over the top by Gio van Bronkhorst, which Kuyt did well to control and then lay into the path of Sneijder.

The Inter man drilled it home, and a sea of orange exploded in the stands.

It was very easy at times for the Dutch, and the murmurs circulating “the Moses” are that this unit has yet to be truly tested.

That’s for the next opponents to ponder, but even Robert Vittek’s last-gasp penalty didn’t take gloss from a job well done.

Slovakia were certainly not embarrassed, and in Weiss and Vittek they have classy players, but this was a bridge too far.

Brazil lie in wait for the Dutch next, and after years of hurt at the hands of the five-time champions, they will have their chance at revenge.

They have happily slipped under the radar, but only a fool would overlook a team dripping with so much attacking prowess.

Having been the first settlers on these shores all those years ago, the Dutch dream of a modern trek to Soccer City is still alive.

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