PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – Soccer’s perennial World Cup underachievers from the Netherlands knocked off mighty Brazil on Friday, stamping the Dutch as a strong contender to finally win that elusive title.
Wesley Sneijder, one of the shortest players on the field, scored in the 68th minute on a header for a stunning 2-1 quarterfinals win over the five-time champions.
“It just slipped through from my bald head and it was a great feeling,” Sneijder said.
Brazil, which also went out in this round four years ago against France, 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.
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 soon, the Dutch took control, and the end of the match 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.
The majority of the fans inside the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium were clad in Brazilian yellow – even though the team wore blue Friday. Many of the fans were wearing South Africa jerseys of the same color, though.
But long after the match ended, the only fans remaining were orange-shirted Netherlands supporters, waving their country’s red-white-and-blue flags and chanting “Oranje.”
“It was an amazing game. I think we showed the whole world how we can play,” Sneijder said. “Finally we won, we beat Brazil.”
After scoring, Sneijder sprinted around the field, tapping the front of his head, then ran to a TV camera and tapped the lens. He was in the middle of all the postgame celebrating, too, as his teammates swarmed him when the final whistle blew.
A few yards away, several Brazilian players lay on the turf, bewildered and beaten.
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 either Uruguay or Ghana, which plays later Friday.
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 dominated the first 45 minutes, then fell apart. 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.
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.