Netherlands' Klaas Huntelaar hops over Slovakia's Jan Durica. Dutch win: 2-1
The Dutch returned to Durban today to face Slovakia—who surprised (and delighted) many by beating reigning Italy last week. After allowing him a little action in the last match, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk started star winger Arjen Robben today—and it’s a good thing he did.
Oranje launched its games in the group stage aggressively, but this time the Slovakians started swift and scrappy. Holland regrouped and organized quickly, creating space and setting up (but not yet delivering on) some good opportunities.
At 18 minutes, Robben shook things up with a precise, low, simply stunning strike. And it looked like the Dutch had it in the bag. Slovakia briefly won the ball back, but it looked like the wind was let out of their sails. Robben’s brilliance aside, the first half hardly added up to a thrillfest.
Five minutes into the second half Robben threatened again, but Slovakia keeper Jan Mucha just wasn’t having it; props to him for a spectacular save. Netherlands goalie Stekelenburg was pressed into serious service 15 minutes later, saving shots from Miroslav Stoch and the vigorous Robert Vittek in rapid succession.
Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt missed a good chance at 70; a minute later Eljero Elia—not looking quite as sharp as he had earlier in the competition—came on for Robben, who is likely not yet back to full fitness. Klaas-Jun Huntelaar replaced an underperforming (and evidently disgruntled) Robin van Persie about ten minutes later.
Slovakia seemed emboldened in the final fifteen, but excellent teamwork between Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder resulted in a goal from the superb midfielder at 83 minutes.
A bizarre drama in injury time—Stekelenburg appeared to trip Slovakian sub Martin Jakubko—allowed 28-year-old Vittek to score one for his country, making him one of the top scorers of the 2010 World Cup. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lured away from Turkish team Ankaragücü following his performance in South Africa.
So: another comfortable, if less than glorious, win for Oranje. A starting Robben made a great impact, but for my money Sneijder is the heart and soul of the team. Jon, another Dutch fan watching at the Black Horse this morning thinks they’ll need to “take more offensive risks” if they face Brazil in the quarterfinals. Soccer Savant Greg sees it differently: “They need to strengthen their defense in the middle,” he said, but believes they have a real chance of making it to the semis—especially if Robben is up to full form. Either way, I’m thrilled that the Dutch have played and won four games—but they’re gonna have to step it up.
Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortuneteller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, a manager of homeless shelters, and a ghostwriter for an inspirational magazine. Her work has been broadcast on This American Life, and her book, Drinking With Men, a collection of true stories set in bars she's known and loved, will be published next year by Riverhead. She supports Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Dutch National Football Team.