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Dogged Dutch make long-awaited return to final

Sports Desk |
Update: 2010-07-06 06:56:09

JOHANNESBURG: Despite still searching for top form, the Netherlands booked a place in their first World Cup final since 1978 by edging Uruguay 3-2 in their semi-final in Cape Town on Tuesday.

They can now make history by lifting football`s ultimate prize for the first time if they beat either Germany or Spain in Johannesburg on Sunday.

"It was a hard match, but all that is forgotten now and we are in the final," said goalscorer Wesley Sneijder, whose countrymen lost to hosts Argentina in the 1978 decider after defeat by West Germany in the 1974 final.

"The most important thing now is to win. We are so close. There is nothing bigger than the World Cup."

Bert van Marwijk`s side are now the only unbeaten team left in the competition and have not lost a competitive match since they were knocked out of the 2008 European Championship by Russia.

"It`s amazing that we have managed to do this," said van Marwijk. "It`s been 32 years. We can be very proud for such a small country."

The Dutch stand placed to become the first team since Brazil in 1970 to win every match at a World Cup finals, and yet they were far from convincing in a nervous win over a Uruguay side bidding to reach their first final since 1950.

"This match was worthy of a World Cup semi-final," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, whose country had not graced the final since they upset the odds to defeat Brazil in the 1950 decider.

"I`m proud of my players. We accept defeat against an opponent that was better than us. We`re sad because we weren`t that far away."

Germany and Spain meet in a repeat of the Euro 2008 final on Wednesday and ex-Spain coach Luis Aragones believes his former charges can prevail in Durban.

"Spain have gathered momentum and that is very important at the World Cup," said the 71-year-old, who stepped down after guiding Spain to the Euro title and was replaced by present incumbent Vicente Del Bosque.

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff, meanwhile, criticised acting skipper Philipp Lahm for expressing his desire to hold onto the armband long term.

Lahm, who has captained Germany in the absence of injured midfielder Michael Ballack, told German media he hoped to continue as captain beyond the tournament.

"The captain`s role has brought me a lot of pleasure. It`s a real joy. Why would I want to give it back?" the Bayern Munich full-back told Bild newspaper.

Coach Joachim Loew, however, was unruffled by the comments.

"That does not worry me," he said. "He knows it`s the coach who makes the decision after the World Cup. He can give his opinion."

In Accra thousands of cheering fans thronged the airport to welcome home the Ghana team, the only African side to reach the knockout phase, after their quarter-final defeat at the hands of Uruguay.

BDST: 0347hrs, July 7, 2010

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