James Lawton: Sneijder's brain power makes difference for sparkling Oranje

In added time there was a moment when all the logic of this game was put into the most severe peril

The superstars have failed in this 19th World Cup, we keep being told, but do not whisper it in the bars of old Amsterdam today and any time this side of Sunday's World Cup final.

Here last night Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben defined quite what it was to go out and meet their responsibilities as footballers of vast reward and national following.

There were times when the Dutch were less than magisterial but they had something that will always remain utterly decisive. In Sneijder and Robben they had two players with the moral courage to accept responsibility for all that was happening around them. They played and they thought their way through any hint of crisis.

They broke down Uruguay and their hero Diego Forlan with a combination of craft and moments of brilliance which made their passage into the final entirely appropriate.

Between them they settled to the job of inflicting the quality of their talent and the depth of their understanding of how to win the big games.

Robben had moments of bewitching creativity but in the end it was Sneijder who wielded the most systematic influence, the most persistent intelligence.

Earlier the Dutch believed they already had the history, the football pedigree and the goal to light up their path to the World Cup final.

It was a reasonable assumption because Giovanni van Bronckhorst's strike would have graced any pinnacle of the game. He hit it perfectly from 40 yards and Uruguay's goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was a doomed figure flying through the air from the moment it left the veteran's boot.

What more did the Oranje need as they pursued the business left unfinished by their great predecessors in the finals of 1974 and '78? They had the inspiration of a goal from the heavens and had placed themselves back at the highest level of the tournament whose challenge has haunted them since the day Johan Cruyff's team failed to exploit fully the range of their astonishing talent.

They also had Sneijder, a Champions League notch on his belt already, justifying the growing belief that in this time of the wilting superstar he is a player offering the rare combination of high skill and the most severe football intellect.

His movement, his eye for anything like an opening in a Uruguayan defence forced out of its trenches by the Van Bronckhorst bolt, seemed to be inevitably carrying the Dutch to their third final – and possibly a historic rematch with their nemesis Germany.

The trouble was Uruguay carried a little bit of history of their own, more than a little pride and someone capable of scoring a goal to match the one of Van Bronckhorst. Forlan, whose impact for Uruguay had matched that of Sneijder on the way to this game, picked up a ball directly out of defence, turned and shot from nearly 30 yards. It meant that suddenly we had a match doing more than stirring the embers of history, but one with a distinct potential to make some of its own.

Indeed, the impetus provided by Forlan's superb strike had plainly given Uruguay a potent reminder of some the glories of their own past. They were, after all, doing more than merely striving to reach a final for the third time. A nation with a population of just three million was, astoundingly, just two wins away from a third triumph. It briefly seemed a little closer than that when Forlan again threatened Holland's goal, this time with a biting free-kick which required a desperate save by Maarten Stekelenburg.

However, the Dutch in the end had somewhat more urgency and rather more talent. Certainly, they had the men to win their first World Cup, and they stepped up to move closer to the ambition with goals that tore away Uruguay's resolve.

The goals came from Sneijder, Holland's supreme organiser and thinker, and Robben, a player who can be as luminous and as acute as he is sometimes exasperating.

They were not the result of mere bursts of virtuosity. They came from the Dutch ability to analyse, to probe and then, when their opponents are beginning to stumble, to go for the cleanest of kills. In this Sneijder was the quite relentless instigator.

It is true Uruguay struck back with nerve at the end and when they scored in added time through Maxi Pereira, there was a moment when all the logic of this game was put into the most severe peril. Uruguay had, not for the first time in their history, performed with honour – right up to the moment of the final whistle.

Then the pain of defeat enveloped them for a little while and they scuffled with their conquerors. It was a pity because this had grown into an absorbing match, with the best team claiming another date with football history.


1974: West Germany 2 Holland 1

The exponents of 'total football' took an early lead when Johan Cruyff won a second-minute penalty, which Johan Neeskens scored. The Dutch continued to dominate but couldn't score again and soon trailed to Paul Breitner's penalty and a typical close-range Gerd Müller strike.

1978: Argentina 3 Holland 1 (aet)

Dick Nanninga scored a late equaliser against the hosts in a hostile Estadio Monumental. Rob Rensenbrink hit the post in stoppage time, but a brilliant Mario Kempes goal – his second – put Argentina ahead in extra time, before Daniel Bertoni made sure.

Ollie Wright

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album