Dutch delight

THE tangerine dream lives on. It may not have been a nerveless victory, but it was momentous. For the first time since 1978, the Netherlands have won the thrilling opportunity to contest a World Cup final at Soccer City.

The Dutch rhetoric of confidence - they've always said they are here to win, despite neglecting to book hotel rooms for this week - is becoming less rhetorical by the day.

Bert van Marwijk's team subdued an impressive Uruguayan fightback, but they will need to raise their game at the back.

A tincture of luck delivered the critical second goal - Wesley Sneijder's speculative effort was wickedly deflected into the Uruguayan net. But the third strike, just three minutes later - a superb header by Arjen Robben from a delectable Dirk Kuyt cross - gave this triumph the style and elan that all Dutch sides crave.

And the opener was as mighty as it was momentous. Giovanni van Bronkhorst is one of the toppies of the tournament at 35, and his presence in the starting line-up was questioned by many.

He answered all those questions in the 18th minute, bolting into a clearing of space and striking a ferocious left-footed drive that dipped and barged in off Fernando Muslera's far post. In the opening minutes, the Dutch bossed the proceedings as expected.

Sneijder's well-weighted cross was punched onward by Muslera to a lurking Kuyt, whose first touch was neat, but he scooped his shot over the crossbar. Kuyt, so often maligned as an honest plodder, was nothing of the sort in the first quarter - he roamed with vigour on the left, and served up a fusillade of threatening crosses.

But for an audacious effort from 40 metres out by Alvaro Pereira, "Los Charruas" had little in the way of early retaliation. Diego Forlan's angled passes were as brainy as ever, but there was no Luis Suarez on hand to read his brain. Edinson Cavani chugged about diligently, but he doesn't have the nasty nous of the buck-toothed slapper.

But there are more villains where Suarez came from. Left-back Martin Caceres, in for suspended Jorge Fucile, felled Demy de Zeeuw with a recklessly acrobatic attempt to boot the Ajax midfielder's head into goal. To his credit, Caceres showed proper concern for the befuddled De Zeeuw's welfare, and then redeemed himself soon afterward by showing admirable strength to hold off a hungry Arjen Robben in the box.

Uruguay seized control of midfield, stroking the ball about with increasing brio and belief. It was no shock when Forlan gave us his now-customary show-stopper in the 41st minute. This was his third long-range screamer of this tournament: having received the ball from Mauricio Victorino in an innocuous position, Forlan turned in a flash and created a swerving monster that Maarten Stekelenburg could paw at but not stop.

Maxi Pereira netted with an excellent consolation strike to make the last couple of minutes extremely anxious.