Dutch on verge of World Cup glory

JOHANNESBURG, July 7, 2010 (AFP) - The Netherlands believe they are poised to win the World Cup this weekend and succeed where great Dutch footballers and coaches have twice failed.

Real Madrid rejects Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben scored within four minutes during the second half to secure a 3-2 Cape Town semi-final triumph over Uruguay and set up a July 11 Johannesburg clash with Germany or Spain.

Uruguay's Walter Gargano (R) and Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder eye the ball during the semi-final between Uruguay and Netherlands on July 6, 2010. AFP

Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst gave the Dutch the lead with a thunderbolt shot and rival skipper Diego Forlan levelled with an equally impressive drive as half-time approached.

Maxi Pereira snatched a stoppage-time consolation goal for the last South American challengers who exceeded expectations by making it to the last-four stage.

The Netherlands entered the World Cup last month as 'dark horses' rather than among the favourites because of repeated failures since finishing runners-up to hosts West Germany and Argentina in successive 1970s finals.

European heavyweights Germany and Spain square off Wednesday evening in a Durban clash that pits goal kings Miroslav Klose and David Villa against each other.

But as Dutch supporters painted Cape Town orange, the team colours, in post-match celebrations, coach Bert van Marwijk insisted his side must lift the trophy if they want to write themselves into football history.

"It is quite something we have achieved after 32 years, but we are not there yet and there is one more match to look forward to," he stressed after a livelier, more open semi-final than anticipated.

The former Feyenoord coach has instilled a strong team spirit into his squad by removing any hint of arrogance and insists his team think only of their next game.

"What happened before my time, with all due respect, I do not look at it," said the white-haired 58-year-old who replaced Dutch legend Marco van Basten after the Euro 2008 championship.

"I do things my way, we play good football and sometimes beautiful football, but in the past we started winning and got over confident. I try to tell my players there will always be a next match."

The one dark cloud hanging over the Dutch camp was the fear that midfielder Demy de Zeeuw could miss the final after suffering a suspected broken jaw when accidentally kicked in the face.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, whose team face Spain or Germany in Port Elizabeth for third place, hailed his severely depleted warriors after they went further than powerful neighbours Argentina and Brazil.

"They managed to play at an equal level with Holland but did not manage to score the winning goal in the final moments. I could not ask for more from these players and nor could Uruguay."

The four-goal hammerings of England and Argentina in their last two outings have underlined the potency of rejuvenated Germany and their pace, power and clinical finishing has made a strong impression on Spain.

"I think Germany are greatly improved since 2008," said coach Vicente Del Bosque referring to the team beaten 1-0 by Spain in the European championship decider.

"Their squad has undergone a renewal with important young players coming through but they have maintained the traditional values of German football. They have players of high quality with good technical skills."

German counterpart Joachim Loew believes the progress of his squad over the last two years has been significant enough to give them every reason to believe they can turn the tables.

"After losing the 2008 final we were disappointed but you have to admit that Spain were clearly the best team in that tournament so they deserved to win," confessed Loew.

"Two years on we have made a lot of changes, Spain not so many. In this tournament, in terms of how we have been playing, we have clearly come on several steps since 2008."

Spain have been frustrated in South Africa by the determination of opponents to stop them playing but Del Bosque, Loew and their players expect an open encounter.

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