Desperately needing some kind of result, Estonia nearly pulled a gargantuan upset of monumental proportions against the Netherlands on Friday, but they were forced to settle for a heart-breaking 2-2 tie.
After Konstantin Vassiljev put the Estonians ahead 2-1 with a spectacular brace, it appeared as though the crowd at the A. Le Coq Arena was going to be dancing in the streets. But a late penalty for Robin van Persie allowed the Dutch to equalize and earn an away point.
It took the Oranje all of two minutes to get the scoring the started when van Persie laid the ball off to Arjen Robben, who cut inside to his famous left foot and curled in a beautiful effort past Sergei Pareiko's grasp.
Ho-hum, just another world-class strike from the Bayern Munich star:
Just moments later, the Dutch nearly made it 2-0 before the blink of an eye, but Pareiko made a wonderful (and crucial) save, going full stretch to push Wesley Sneijder's powerful effort away from goal.
It was a crisp, clinical opening from the Netherlands, stringing together possession through Robben and creating a slew of early chances. Jonathan Galed summed it up:
The Dutch continued to push forward, as Robben had a shot blocked in the 11th minute and Pareiko came through with another monumental save in the 12th, kicking a van Persie effort wide.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Estonia equalized in the 18th minute when Vassiljev burned Stefan de Vrij and, from outside the box, sent a skipping left-footed strike across the ground just past Michel Vorm.
It was a sensational individual effort from the Amkar midfielder:
Despite a frenzied home crowd, Netherlands continued to control possession and create chances, but Louis van Gaal's squad simply wasn't able to break through the Sinisärgid's bunkered defense.
Just over 10 minutes into the second half, Vassiljev struck again.
After a few more missed opportunities from the Dutch, Estonia struck on the break and the 29-year-old softly brought down a beautiful pass and subsequently chipped it over Vorm in calm fashion.
Even this Dutch Football Twitter account realized the class of the Estonian's second goal:
The clock ticked on, and as the Dutch continually created chances but failed to solve Estonia's back line, a massive upset seemed in the cards.
But in the 92nd minute, defender Raio Piiroja—who had been sensational in the back for 91 minutes—took down van Persie in the box, forcing the referee to point to the spot.
From there, the Manchester United star clinically slotted it home.
The final scoreline may read "draw," but as this Dutch Football Twitter account pointed out, it wasn't pretty for the Oranje:
In the end, Estonia should be patting themselves on the back for a gritty effort, while Holland should admit it still has plenty of work to do before Brazil.
Konstantin Vassiljev: A
What more can you say?
Vassiljev's first goal was an example of pure individual excellence, beating his defender with a bit of creativity and finishing with a long, clinical effort.
His second was one of finesse and beauty, as Alex Fisher pointed out:
It's difficult to pick out which one was better because they were both world-class for different reasons. Either way, it was a transcendent performance from the midfielder to nearly carry his country to a gargantuan upset.
Arjen Robben: B+
You can't blame Robben for Netherlands' lack of success in the final third.
Not only did he score a classic Robben goal in the opening seconds, but he continued to look dangerous throughout the match, completing passes and dribbles in the attacking half, opening up several chances for his squad.
He missed on a few opportunities, badly skied a shot in the final minutes and sometimes showed some of that infamous selfishness, but more often than not, good things happened when Netherlands went through the 29-year-old midfielder.
After seven matches, Netherlands is comfortably atop the Group D table with 19 points. They will face Andorra on the road on Tuesday.
Estonia now has seven points in seven matches and will face Hungary away on Tuesday, needing a win.
The group sits as follows with the first-place country qualifying for the World Cup and second-place qualifying for a playoff: Netherlands (19 points), Romania (13), Hungary (11), Turkey (10), Estonia (7), Andorra (0).