|Brazil's Robinho, center back, celebrates with fellow team members after scoring a goal during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)|
Netherlands shocks Brazil 2-1
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa—Don't call the Dutch underachievers anymore.
Not after the way the Netherlands rallied to upset five-time champion Brazil 2-1 in the World Cup quarterfinals Friday.
After waking themselves up at halftime, the title that has eluded the Dutch for all these years is now just two wins away.
"For 45 minutes we went full throttle," said Wesley Sneijder. "We were rewarded."
One of the shortest players on the field, Sneijder put the Netherlands ahead in the 68th minute on a header -- a thrill so huge he ran to a TV camera, tapped the lens and stuck his face in for a close up.
"It just slipped through from my bald head and it was a great feeling," Sneijder said.
He was in the middle of the post-game party, too, as his teammates swarmed him when the final whistle blew. John Heitinga picked up Sneijder and slung him over his shoulder as Netherlands captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a Brazil shirt in hand, leaped up and rubbed Sneidjer's closely shaved head.
The result was a case of role reversal for both sides.
The top-ranked team in the world and one of the most impressive squads in the tournament until Friday, Brazil lost its composure after falling behind and defender Felipe Melo was ejected in the 73rd minute for stomping on the leg of Arjen Robben.
The Dutch made the championship match in 1974 and '78, lost both, and rarely have lived up to their talent in other World Cups. They did this time, helped by an own goal off the head of unfortunate Felipe Melo that brought them into a 1-1 tie in the 53rd.
"I'm devastated. It was hard to see the players crying back there," Felipe Melo said after emerging from the locker room.
"I have to apologize to the Brazilian fans. I came here thinking about giving Brazil the title, but I'm a human being. Everybody can make mistakes."
He was almost the hero.
Robinho gave the Brazilians the lead on Felipe Melo's brilliant low pass up the middle of the field that the striker put home with a low shot.
But the second half presented the unusual sight of the Brazilians scrambling wildly to find an equalizer.
It never came.
Instead, it was the Oranje and their fans doing the dancing as Brazil's players lay on the turf.
Brazil also lost in the quarterfinals four years ago, falling to France 1-0. Former team captain Dunga was hired to coach the team after that defeat, despite having no previous managerial experience.
"We didn't expect this," he said. "We know that any World Cup match is about 90 minutes. In the first half we were able to play better and we weren't able to maintain that rhythm in the second half."
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk agreed that everything changed at the break.
"We could have lost it in the first 15 minutes," he said. "At halftime, I made it very clear to the players. I told them time and time again, 'You have to play your own game. You have to have patience against Brazil.'"
Said Sneijder: "At halftime we said to each other that we had to improve things and put more pressure on the Brazilian defense."
The Netherlands reached the semifinals for the first time since losing to Brazil on penalty kicks at the 1998 World Cup, and will next face Uruguay, which defeated Ghana on penalty kicks.
Having won all five matches so far, the Netherlands extended its team-record unbeaten streak to 24 games, stretching back to a September 2008 loss to Australia.
On a warm afternoon before a sellout crowd of 42,286 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Brazil controlled the tempo early on. Before the Dutch comeback, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg timed his leap perfectly to deflect a shot by Kaka that was headed into the right corner of the net.
The one-goal lead wasn't enough. Brazil began to unravel when Felipe Melo jumped in front of keeper Julio Cesar and inadvertently headed the ball into his net.
"We had two players going for the same ball and what happened happened," Julio Cesar said, his eyes filled with tears.
Sneijder's goal followed a corner kick from Robben. Dirk Kuyt flicked the ball with his head to Sneijder in the middle of the 6-yard box and he rose high enough to deflect it into the left corner of the goal.
"It was an amazing game. I think we showed the whole world how we can play," Sneijder said. "Finally we won, we beat Brazil."