Robben powers Dutch to crucial win

Arjen Robben powered the Netherlands to a vital 1-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro in their first World Cup Group C game on Sunday.

With Argentina beating the Ivory Coast 2-1 on Saturday, this was a must-win match for the Dutch in the tournament’s “group of death”, and an irrepressible Robben—aided by a strong midfield showing by Mark van Bommel and Phillip Cocu—ensured just that.

The Serb defence, which conceded only one goal in qualifying, met their match in the doughty Robben, who tormented Nenad Djordjevic down his left wing, opened the scoring and came close to bagging at least three more.

In the 18th minute, Dutch defender John Heitinga hit a long ball forward, which was picked up centre field by Robin van Persie who delivered a delightful little chip over last defender Goran Gavrancic and into the path of the onrushing Robben.

He made no mistake in his one-on-one with exposed goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric, sliding the ball left-footed into the back of the net.

Three minutes later, Jevric was more than a match for Robben, palming away a ferocious shot from the edge of the area, but in the 37th minute could only watch as the Chelsea hitman’s right-footed shot just missed the far post.

Serbia and Montenegro’s best chance came in the 13th minute. Dejan Stankovic rounded two defenders and squared the ball, which was beaten away from the oncoming Savo Milosevic and Mateja Kezman by a diving Joris Mathijsen, to the relief of Dutch captain and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

Late first-half Serbia and Montenegro replacement Ognjen Koroman gave the Dutch-dominated crowd in the 44 000-seater stadium a fright with two cracking shots, one just before and one just after the interval.

Robben should have done better with his shot after a smart one-two with Ruud van Nistlerooy seven minutes into the second-half, and a clever free-kick also almost fell his way for finishing.

With one or two final Dutch passes going astray, Serbia and Montenegro pressed for an equaliser, and Cocu had to be on his guard to head a dangerous Kezman effort behind, while the defence was left to scramble away a handful of crosses.

Van der Sar was forced into a vital diving save to his left in the 71st minute, the Manchester United star snuffling out a drilled shot by Portsmouth’s Koroman, who had been allowed far too much space on the edge of the area.

It was a good job Van der Sar was not called into more action as the 35-year-old seemed to be suffering badly with cramp in the heat.

In the final quarter, Robben twice went close to doubling his tally, while an excellent free-kick, whipped by van Persie into the box, just evaded a lunging Dirk Kuyt, on as a replacement for Van Nistlerooy.—AFP

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