PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa - Don't call the Dutch underachievers anymore.
Not after the way the Netherlands rallied to upset five-time champion Brazil, 2-1, in the World Cup quarterfinals Friday.
After waking themselves up at halftime, the title that has eluded the Dutch for all these years is now just two wins away.
“For 45 minutes we went full throttle,” said Wesley Sneijder. “We were rewarded.”
One of the shortest players on the field, Sneijder put the Netherlands ahead in the 68th minute on a header – a thrill so huge he ran to a TV camera, tapped the lens and stuck his face in for a close up.
“It just slipped through from my bald head and it was a great feeling,” Sneijder said.
He was in the middle of the postgame party, too, as his teammates swarmed him when the final whistle blew. John Heitinga picked up Sneijder and slung him over his shoulder as Netherlands captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a Brazil shirt in hand, leaped up and rubbed Sneidjer’s closely shaved head.
The result was a case of role reversal for both sides.
The top-ranked team in the world and one of the most impressive squads in the tournament until Friday, Brazil 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 Melo that brought them into a 1-1 tie in the 53rd.
“I’m devastated. It was hard to see the players crying back there,” Melo said after emerging from the locker room.
“I have to apologize to the Brazilian fans. I came here thinking about giving Brazil the title, but I’m a human being. Everybody can make mistakes.”
He was almost the hero.
Robinho gave the Brazilians the lead on Melo’s brilliant low pass up the middle of the field that the striker put home with a low shot.
But the second half 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 as Brazil’s players lay on the turf.
Brazil also lost in the quarterfinals four years ago, falling to France, 1-0. Former team captain Dunga was hired to coach the team after that defeat. Dunga resigned after the match.
“It was an amazing game. I think we showed the whole world how we can play,” Sneijder said. “Finally we won, we beat Brazil.”
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