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2:30 PM ET, July 6, 2010
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa
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Netherlands advances to 1st World Cup final since '78
CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Arjen Robben emerged from the bottom of an Oranje mosh pit, mud on his brow and a smile on his face.For good measure, he threw kisses at his teammates and fans. His goal gave the Netherlands a 3-2 victory over Uruguay and a spot in the World Cup final.Now that's a Dutch treat!The big prize -- that elusive first title -- is still one game away. But this was such a moment to savor that most of the squad made a curtain call nearly an hour after the biggest Netherlands victory in decades, leading about 1,000 orange-clad fans in cheers that figure to last until Sunday.That's when the Dutch play either Spain or Germany for the championship of the world."If you win the final, you make yourself immortal, at least in our country," Robben said. "We will do everything we can to take the Cup back."Long wasteful with its soccer talent, the Netherlands sure has found the right touch in this tournament.Stars Wesley Sneijder and Robben scored three minutes apart in the second half as the Netherlands advanced to its first title match since losing in 1978 to Argentina."We are so close," Sneijder said. "There is nothing bigger than the World Cup."And nothing better than sharing it with their countrymen.So out came Robben, Sneijder and their teammates long after the final whistle, to join the celebration in an empty stadium -- empty except for that rollicking section of fans still singing Dutch songs, waving flags and bowing in unison. The players joined in from the field, several on the shoulders of others, some taking photos. Back home in Amsterdam, the victory touched off mass celebrations, too.Winners of all six games in South Africa and 10 in a row overall and in the midst of a 25-match unbeaten streak, the Dutch have the look of champions -- with an Oranje hue, of course."This is unforgettable," said Sneijder, now tied with Spain's 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," he said.Besides the loss to Argentina in '78, the Netherlands fell in its only other appearance in the final, to West Germany in 1974.Both of those title-game defeats came during the golden period of Dutch soccer -- and in the opposition's homeland. No such worries this time, and no country outside of Africa has had as much fan support as the Netherlands.Inside Green Point Stadium it looked like a Florida orange grove. Outside, a Netherlands fan in a blue and white bodysuit stood on stilts and played a vuvuzela -- badly. It was about the only thing that didn't measure up for the Dutch. And a tournament that looked like a South American fiesta early on will end in a European showdown for the second straight World Cup. Sneijder and Robben made sure of that.Sneijder's goal came somewhat unexpectedly because Uruguay had shut down the Dutch offense for much of the second half. His left-footed shot from just inside the penalty area barely ticked the leg of defender Maximiliano Pereira and, with Robin van Persie almost deflecting it again, the ball skidded past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.Then Robben sent a cross from Dirk Kuyt past a flat-footed Muslera with a brilliant header. His teammates piled on in an Oranje Crush celebration, and Robben came up from it muddied and merry -- and with the knowledge that, ahead 3-1, the Netherlands was likely headed to the championship match.Uruguay was without dangerous striker Luis Suarez, whose handball on the goal line in the final seconds of extra time against Ghana saved his team in the quarterfinals. He drew a red card for that and spent his suspension on the bench watching his undermanned teammates come up just short.Pereira made the Netherlands sweat with a goal in injury time, and Stekelenburg's late save preserved the biggest Dutch win in decades. The Dutch have now won 10 straight and are unbeaten in their last 25 games.