NETHERLANDS 2-1 SLOVAKIA, Durban, 28/06/10
Robben 18, Sneijder 84; Vittek 90+4 (pen)
The Netherlands bided their time before doing enough to dispose of Slovakia, and potentially set up a Quarter-Final clash with Brazil.
Slovakia started the game brightly, with Erik Jendrisek firing just over the bar only 66 seconds into the game. However it was one of Slovakia’s only good chances of the half, as the Netherlands’ tactics consisted of holding the ball and patiently waiting to break down the defence, while snuffing out any infrequent Slovakian attempts.
Although it was a tactic that was not very exciting for the neutral, it proved effective in the 18th minute when the Netherlands took the lead. Arjen Robben, starting his first game since picking up an injury against Hungary over three weeks ago, was on the end of a long ball from midfield, cut inside two defenders and fired the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box, giving the Netherlands a great advantage: in each of the Last 16 matches at this World Cup so far, the team that scored first has ended up going through to the Quarter Finals.
Despite both teams’ efforts to score there were very few decent efforts on goal from either team in the first 45 minutes, as both teams went in at half-time knowing that the result was far from set in stone.
Both teams started the second half much better with Robben nearly scoring again from a nearly identical position, and Robert Vittek trying to pull one back for Slovakia. But it was the Netherlands who should have scored next, as a shot from 8 yards away was blocked by the face of Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha. And the Dutch goalkeeper, Martan Stekelenburg, wasn’t having an easy time either. In the 67th minute a Miroslav Stoch effort was aimed full speed towards for the roof of the net, only for Stekelenburg to tip it over, followed shortly by another great save, this time from a Vittek shot from the edge of the box.
But despite all of Slovakia’s chances to equalize they couldn’t get the ball in the net, and they paid for it in the 84th minute. Martin Skrtel conceded a free kick on the half-way line, which was taken quickly and hit forward for Dirk Kuyt. Mucha misjudged the pass and found himself in no man’s land when it found Kuyt, who laid it off to Wesley Sneijder to fire into an empty net, and ensure a Dutch victory.
However Slovakia had the chance to score a consolation goal in extra time when Stekelenburg was judged to have brought Martin Jakubko in the box, which he received a yellow card for. Vittek stood up to take the penalty and converted it confidentally, his shot on goal being the last kick of the game.
The Netherlands are now one more victory away from equaling the all-time record for consecutive UFWC title defences, curently held by Scotland with 20. Their next title match will be on July 2nd, where they will face either Brazil or Chile in the World Cup Quarter Finals.