Oranje leave it to the last

Netherlands 2

Slovakia 1

With all the weapons in their arsenal the Netherlands really made

things difficult for themselves.

They could have closed this affair quite early, yet left things to the last minute.

When Arjen Robben put them ahead in the 18th minute it looked like

it was going to rain goals – just as the pitch had been watered before


Despite being pulled off before the end of the match, his sterling

performance earned him the man of the match award.

The Slovaks, on the other hand, will only have themselves to


Two particular minutes – between the 65th and 67th minutes – could

have changed this game.

Miroslav Stoch brought the best save out of Dutch goalkeeper

Maarten Stekelenburg in the 65th when his shot was parried over the crossbar for

a corner kick.

Two minutes later, Róbert Vittek had the best chance of the game

when Stoch turned provider and sent the former through with a deft pass. With

only Stekelenburg to beat, Vettek blasted the ball straight at the goalkeeper

and thus went a chance and the match.

Then with six minutes of normal time left, Liverpool player Dirk

Kuyt rounded off the defence, drew goalkeeper Ján Mucha out of his goal and laid

a pass for Wesley Sneijder that he could have scored with his eyes closed.

2-0 Holland.

As usual, the Dutch attacked with verve and zealously defended

their goal with grit.

When Slovakia were awarded a penalty and Stekelenburg got himself a

booking way into injury time and Vittek slotted home, it was just too


As Spanish referee Alberto Undiano blew his final whistle, the

question on the Dutch supporters’ minds must have changed from the usual: “Will

it be better this time?” to “Could this be the time?” as they marched to the


Goal drought

The watering of the pitch before kick-off that many might have

thought would be an indication that it was to rain goals never became a


Slovakia were first to send a message when Erik Jendrišek sent in a

speculative shot from range that missed the target with quite a margin two

minutes into action.

Holland play-maker Sneijder sent a message that his team also knows

where the sticks are as he let fly with his right boot following a brilliant

pass he received from Robben four minutes later.

As chants of “Oranje, Oranje” reverberated through the magnificent

arena, Slovakia captain Marek Hamšík had other ideas and silenced those draped

in orange with a screamer that missed Stekelenburg’s right post by a few


Robin van Persie rose high above the Slovakia defence in the

seventh minute but his header came off the back of a defender’s head to go for a

corner to the relief of goalkeeper Mucha.

Three minutes later, Mucha was called to dive full-length to stop a

right-footed grounder from chief tormentor, Sneijder.

It came as no surprise when Robben collected a pass sent from the

Netherlands half of the field on the right flank, swivelled past two defenders

and unleashed a ground shot that went into the bottom left-hand corner of

Mucha’s posts.

Robben collected a silly and unnecessary booking in the 31st minute

when he used his hand to stop the ball.

Nine minutes later, Juraj Kucka made his way into referee Undiano’s

book for a rough tackle on Nigel de Jong.

English Premiership side Arsenal’s marksman Van Persie nearly made

it 2-0 before half time when he positioned himself nicely between two defenders

but shot straight at the goal-minder.

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