Sneijder, Robben fire Dutch into final

CAPE TOWN: Netherlands reached their first World Cup final since 1978 when the current crop finally stepped out of the shadows of Total Football to beat battling Uruguay 3-2 in a superb semifinal on Tuesday.

They were cruising when two second-half goals in three minutes from Wesley Sneijder his fifth of the tournament and Arjen Robben put them 3-1 ahead after earlier long-range strikes by Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Uruguays Diego Forlan.

An added-time goal by Maximiliano Pereira then set up a nail-biting finale but the Dutch, who had the edge throughout, survived to set up a second successive all-European final.

They will face either Germany or Spain, who meet in Durban on Wednesday, in a showdown that now guarantees a first European World Cup triumph on a foreign continent.

We are so close, Sneijder said. There is nothing bigger than the World Cup.

This is unforgettable, said Sneijder, now tied with Spains David Villa for top scorer at the tournament (five goals). It was a tough fight and toward the end we complicated matters.

Sunday we play in the World Cup final. I have to get used to that.

After pioneering free-flowing Total Football and then losing the 1974 and 1978 finals, as well as being beaten on penalties by Brazil in the 1998 semifinals, the class of 2010 have the chance to rid the Dutch nation of the nearly-men tag.

I remember those finals very well, said coach Bert van Marwijk. It was a unique generation with Johan Cruyff the best football player who ever existed.

Its so great that weve ended up in the final again. Weve really achieved something after 32 years but we are not there yet, there is one more match.

Cape Town had been relatively starved of drama in its previous seven matches but nobody had any complaints this time as they were treated to the highest scoring semifinal since Germany drew 3-3 after extra time with France in 1982.

Uruguay, who began their unlikely route the final on the same pitch when they held France to a goalless draw, had conceded only two goals in their previous five games and it took something extraordinary to get past them on Tuesday.

Van Bronckhorst, 35, and due to retire from the game after the final, can surely never have struck a sweeter shot than the 35-metre screamer he drove past Fernando Muslera from wide on the left to give the Dutch an 18th-minute lead.

They sat back after that, though, and paid the price when Forlan almost matched his opposing captain by letting fly from a similar range four minutes before the break the ball fizzing into the net past the wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg.

Uruguay, missing suspended striker Luis Suarez and injured regular captain Diego Lugano through injury, raised brief hopes that they could end their own long wait for glory having won the second of their two titles 60 years ago.

However, the Dutch, who introduced attacking midfielder Rafael van der Vaart for the second half, eventually began to regain control.

They regained the lead in the 70th minute when Sneijders low shot took a deflection and skidded in.

Then Robben sent a cross from Dirk Kuyt past a flat-footed Muslera with a brilliant header as Robben was leaping away from the net. His teammates piled on in an Oranje Crush celebration, and Robben came up from it with mud on his forehead, a smile on his face and the knowledge that Netherlands were ahead 3-1 and heading to the championship match.

Robben missed a great chance to make it four soon after and, having been substituted to all-round victory hugs from his team mates, was a worried man when Pereira pulled one back.

The Dutch then had to defend as if their lives depended on it for another three minutes with Kuyt making one superb block to keep out a goal-bound shot.

At the final whistle, Robben fell flat to the turf as he ran back onto the pitch. Mark van Bommel hustled over to where the ball came to rest, picked it up and hugged it. His teammates then began a joyous stroll around the field, some of them barechested, as the vuvuzelas blared and Dutch flags waved in the stands.

About a half hour after the game ended, 1,000 fans were still there singing Dutch songs, waving flags, and bowing in unison and the team came back in their orange shorts to join the party, even lead the cheers.

I love attacking football but Ive tried to teach this team about defending, said Van Marwijk, whose players returned to the pitch an hour after the match to salute the hundreds of orange-clad fans stills singing.

Uruguay bowed out having flown the South American flag further than all their illustrious continental neighbours.

We never gave up and our last goal showed we were trying until the end, said coach Oscar Tabarez. If you were to chose a mode of losing it would be how we lost tonight.

Tabarez contended that the second Dutch goal was offside but he admitted the Dutch finishing was generally superior.

The opponents were better when it came to scoring goals against us, he said. Were sad because even though nobody gave us a chance, we were close.

It was a match worthy of a semifinal. I am proud of my players. We are sad because we werent far away.

We were so close to the final, said Forlan, who scored four goals in South Africa. Its very disappointing. We had chances and we didnt take them. Its a shame because we lost a unique opportunity, he added.