Impressive as Arjen Robben and his Dutch teammates were in advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals, they seek much more.
The Netherlands reached the final eight Monday when standouts Robben and Wesley Sneijder scored in each half of a 2-1 victory over Slovakia in Durban, South Africa.
“We played a difficult match. Main thing is, we are through,” Robben said. “Probably the perfect game has still to come.”
The Dutch might need to approach perfection in their next match against five-time champion Brazil. For now, they can enjoy the rekindling of the crafty Dutch offense –and they can credit Robben, who made his first start of the tournament after recovering from a hamstring injury,
The Oranje, who have never won soccer’s biggest prize, went ahead in the 18th minute when Robben cut inside from the right wing and found the net with a low, precise shot from 20 yards.
“It’s fantastic,” Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said. “After such an injury that he has the touch to score a goal like that.”
The Moses Mabhida Stadium was filled mostly with orange-clad Netherlands fans and they blasted their vuvuzelas on Robben’s first touch. After his goal, the sound became deafening.
Sneijder doubled the lead into an empty net in the 84th after a gamble by Slovak goalkeeper Jan Mucha backfired.
“We had a good first half hour. And we started well in the second half,” Van Marwijk said. “We should have scored 2-0, 3-0, maybe 4-0 there.”
Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg preserved the win with two key saves in the 67th and the Dutch extended their team-record unbeaten streak to 23 games.
Robert Vittek scored on a last-second penalty kick for Slovakia, then rushed to the net to retrieve the ball, only to hear the final whistle.
“At a crucial stage Maarten Stekelenburg saved us,” van Marwijk said.
Brazil 3, Chile 0: With an impressive mixture of symphony-like teamwork and standout individual plays, the five-time champions cruised past their South American rivals in Johannesburg.
As Brazil was dismantling Chile, a couple of fans delighted the crowd by parading around the stadium with two giant gold likenesses of the World Cup trophy.
Another three games like this and Brazil could be hoisting the real thing – yet again.
Next up: The Netherlands.
“Now it’s a match between two traditional teams with great players,” Brazil captain Lucio said. “Now the matches will get harder and harder.”
Brazil’s players were almost nonchalant after the victory as they shook hands and exchanged hugs. Who can blame them: reaching the later stages may as well be part of Brazil’s World Cup itinerary.
Brazil has reached the quarterfinals every time since the 1990 tournament in Italy, when it fell 1-0 to Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the second round. Brazil coach Dunga and assistant coach Jorginho were starters for that Brazilian team.
The Brazilians won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups.
Juan opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a firm header from near the penalty spot off a corner kick. Luis Fabiano added to the lead in the 38th, receiving a one-touch pass from Kaka and dribbling past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo inside the area before hitting the open net.
Robinho scored his first goal in the tournament with a shot from the top of the area in the 59th minute, a one-timer into the far corner.
The victory in front of nearly 55,000 fans at Ellis Park extended Brazil’s dominance over Chile. It was the eighth consecutive win; the last loss to Chile was 3-0 in a 2000 qualifier for the 2002 World Cup.