SAO PAULO - Anyone remember that the Dutch put five past holders Spain almost a month ago and led group stage scoring at this World Cup with 10 goals from 270 minutes of football?
Afterwards however their slick attacking machine stuttered. They managed just two more goals in 330 minutes, a header off a corner kick and a disputable penalty in a six-minute burst to beat Mexico 2-1 in the last minutes from 1-0 down in the last 16.
For 88 minutes against Mexico, 120 against Costa Rica, and another 120 against Argentina, the inventors of total football didn't find the net despite such class acts as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.
While surviving Costa Rica on penalties in the quarter-final, they ran out of luck in the next shoot-out against Argentina, losing 4-2 after earning the dubious distinction of have being part of the first goalless World Cup semi-final after 120 minutes.
Official statistics revealed the Dutch had three shots on target, two less than Argentina who also had no interest in attacking in a dour semi which came a day after rampant Germany stormed into the final with the biggest semi-final win at a World Cup, 7-1 against Brazil.
"We didn't create many chances, that was something that was better in the previous games. But that also says a lot about the performance of Argentina," Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal said.
"We have played a fantastic tournament. Nobody thought we would reach the knock-out rounds," he added.
The Dutch were the toast of the World Cup early on - thrashing Spain 5-1, beating Australia 3-2 and Chile 2-0 for maximum points and the leading 10 goals in the group stage.
Van Gaal impressed with a 5-3-2 line-up against Spain, had substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar decide the game against Mexico, and then brought on reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul to beat Costa Rica from the spot before his bag of tricks was finally empty against Argentina and their goalkeeper hero Sergio Romero.
It was a frustrating night as the Argentina team marshalled by the outstanding Javier Mascherano allowed nothing, although Lionel Messi and company were also fully contained by the Dutch defence.
"I think we deserved more. There was only one team today playing for penalties and that was Argentina. We fought hard — we should have taken our chances," midfielder Wesley Snijder said.
Robben struck a similar line: "We really deserved more. We can be proud of what we have achieved."