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Netherlands beats Uruguay to reach World Cup final

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - The Netherlands, long wasteful with its soccer talent, has found the right touch in this World Cup, and has found a place in Sunday's final.

Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben scored three minutes apart in the second half as the Netherlands beat Uruguay 3-2 last night to advance to its first championship match since losing in 1978 to Argentina.

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

Winners of all six games in South Africa, the Oranje will face the winner of today's Germany-Spain semifinal in Sunday's title game at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The Netherlands lost its 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.

A tournament that looked like a South American fiesta early on will end in a European showdown for the second straight World Cup.

"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.

Sneijder's goal came somewhat unexpectedly because Uruguay had shut down the Dutch offense for much of the second half. His right-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, it skidded past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera into the far corner.

Then Robben sent header on a cross from Dirk Kuyt past the helpless Muslera. The Netherlands was ahead 3-1 and likely headed to the final.

Uruguay was without dangerous striker Luis Suarez who drew a red card for a handball on the line in the previous game against Ghana.

Pereira made the Netherlands sweat with a goal in injury time, and Maarten 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.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, the Dutch captain, gave his team the lead in the 18th minute, and the Oranje pressed for more. But when they let up slightly on defense, Uruguay's superb Diego Forlan pounced from just under 30 yards, his left-footed drive brushing off of Stekelenburg's hand and into the net.

Forlan left in the 85th minute and coach Oscar Tabarez revealed after the match that his star played hurt.


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