CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — If you can paint a town orange, that’s what the Dutch will be doing in Cape Town, Amsterdam and everywhere else they can think of. The Netherlands is in the World Cup final, and boy do the players know how to celebrate a big win.
Like in an Oranje mosh pit. Or on each other’s shoulders, leading the flag-waving, vuvuzela-tooting fans in song.
The Dutch head to Johannesburg for their first shot at the soccer championship in 32 years after a 3-2 victory over scrappy but outmanned Uruguay on Tuesday night.
“We are so close,” said Wesley Sneijder, who scored the go-ahead goal. “There is nothing bigger than the World Cup.”
That elusive first title is still one win away. But this was such a moment to savor that most of the squad made a curtain call nearly an hour after the biggest Netherlands victory in decades, leading about 1,000 orange-clad fans in cheers that figure to last until Sunday.
That’s when the Dutch will play either Spain or Germany for soccer’s big prize.
“If you win the final, you make yourself immortal, at least in our country,” said Arjen Robben, whose winner came three minutes after Sneijder scored. “We will do everything we can to take the Cup back.”
It’s hard to doubt them, with the Dutch on a 25-game unbeaten streak, including 10 straight wins. They’re not as creative as the Clockwork Oranje of the 1970s, when they lost two World Cup finals to host teams — West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978. Nor are they as explosive.
But they sure are good, and on the kind of roll that gives the Dutch the look of champions — with an Oranje hue, of course.
“This is unforgettable,” said Sneijder, 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.
“Sunday we play in the World Cup final. I have to get used to that.”
Long wasteful with its soccer talent, the Netherlands has found the right touch in this tournament, winning all six matches.
Inside Green Point Stadium it looked like a Florida citrus grove. Outside, a Netherlands fan in a blue and white bodysuit stood on stilts and played a vuvuzela — badly. It was about the only thing that didn’t measure up for the Dutch.
And a tournament that looked like a South American fiesta early on will end in a European showdown for the second straight World Cup. Sneijder and Robben made sure of that.
Sneijder’s goal came somewhat unexpectedly because Uruguay had shut down the Dutch offense for much of the second half. His left-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, the ball skidded past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Then Robben sent a cross from Dirk Kuyt past a flat-footed Muslera with a brilliant header. His teammates piled on in an Oranje Crush celebration, and Robben came up from it muddied and merry — and with the knowledge that, ahead 3-1, the Netherlands was likely headed to the championship match.
Uruguay was without dangerous striker Luis Suarez, whose handball on the goal line in the final seconds of extra time against Ghana saved his team in the quarterfinals. He drew a red card for that, and spent his suspension on the bench watching his undermanned teammates come up just short.
Pereira made the Netherlands sweat with a goal in injury time, and Maarten Stekelenburg’s late save preserved the victory — and touched off the partying.
Robben was replaced late in the match, and at the final whistle he fell flat to the turf as he ran back onto the pitch. At least he wasn’t buried under his teammates and practically eating mud like he was following the pile-on after his goal.
Robben came up smiling after that one, then blew kisses to the fans and his teammates.
At the joyous end, Mark van Bommel hustled over to where the ball came to rest, picked it up and hugged it. His teammates then began a pleasure-filled stroll around the field, some of them barechested, as the vuvuzelas blared and Dutch flags waved in the stands.
“This is very special,” coach Bert Van Marwijk said. “After 32 years we play the final again. Such a small country! We can be very proud of this.”
The Jabulani ball Van Bommel grabbed has been a source of criticism for its unpredictability, particularly the way it can soar. When Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, a true defensive halfback, puts one in from 30 yards off the far goalpost, well, let the debate begin again.
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, the superb Diego Forlan pounced. He was given far too much open space in the middle of the field and, from just under 30 yards, his left-footed drive went off goalkeeper Stekelenburg’s hand and into the net.
Stekelenburg was screened just enough by defender John Heitinga and didn’t get a good view of the ball until it was too late.
Forlan celebrated his fourth goal of the tournament with a suave wave of his arm. Suarez leaped off the bench in jubilation.
But Forlan left in the 85th minute with a painful thigh.
“From minute one he had a problem,” coach Oscar Tabarez said. “I’m not dumb enough to take him out at 3-1 when the match wasn’t lost. He was injured and could not continue.”
Tabarez said the better team won.
“We did what we could, we accept the defeat,” he said. “We’re sad because even though nobody gave us a chance, we were close.”
Van Bronckhorst was in his accustomed role early in the second half when he headed a long shot by Alvaro Pereira away from the net after Stekelenburg was caught out chasing a stray back pass. And the Dutch defense was under siege in the final minutes as Uruguay sought to tie it.
The Celeste will head to Saturday’s third-place game, not bad for the last team to qualify.
The Dutch? Every road between Cape Town and Johannesburg might get a repainted a certain color before Sunday.