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FOOTBALL

Dutch join Argentina in next round

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Van Persie is mobbed by teammates after putting the Dutch ahead.

SPECIAL REPORT

STUTTGART, Germany -- The Netherlands held firm against a spirited fightback by the Ivory Coast to ensure their passage to the knockout stage of the World Cup with a 2-1 win in Stuttgart on Friday.

A Robin van Persie thunderbolt and a cool strike from Ruud van Nistelrooy put the Dutch 2-0 ahead, but Bakary Kone pulled a goal back for the Ivorians just before halftime.

The second half saw less goalmouth action but Ivory Coast were close to equalizing when Didier Drogba's header was cleared off the line.

Dutch coach Marco van Basten acknowledged their struggle on the final whistle. "We started very well in the first half but after that it became difficult. In the second half we could only defend," he said.

With two wins from two matches, the Dutch join Group C leaders Argentina on six points.

Argentina thrashed Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 in the earlier match and lead the group on goal difference.

The teams meet in Frankfurt next Wednesday to decide who goes through as group winner with the Dutch needing a victory to leapfrog the South Americans.

The Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro are eliminated from the so-called 'Group of Death.'

Huge disappointment

"It's a huge disappointment, because we wanted to put on a really big performance and beat the Dutch," Chelsea star Drogba said after their exit.

"We saw that they had a few weaknesses but in the end they won it -- just like Argentina did last week.

"We are very frustrated because we had chances to come back," he added.

Arsenal's Van Persie fired the Dutch ahead in the 23rd minute with a free kick blasted in the top left corner after Kolo Toure had brought the Dutchman down outside the penalty area.

Three minutes later, FIFA man-of-the-match Arjen Robben put through Van Nistelrooy after a typically forceful run down the left and the striker clinically finished.

The Ivorians, who were shaded 2-1 by Argentina in their first match, fought back and first Didier Zokora shook the frame of the goal with a venemous right-foot blast, then the diminutive Kone halved the deficit with a contender for goal of the tournament.

He took the ball off Zokora on the left, cut diagonally across goal before scoring with an unstoppable right foot shot on 38 minutes.

Kone's goal was the first the Dutch had conceded in 11 competitive matches, ending goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar's clean sheet record at 1,013 minutes.

With the Ivorians looking likely to equalize with every attack, the halftime whistle came at just the right moment for van Basten's men and, by contrast, the second half was a disappointment.

Niggly fouls disrupted the flow of the game, but goalscorer Van Persie came to the rescue at the other end for the Dutch after 78 minutes when he cleared off the line following a header from Drogba.

The best Netherland's attack saw Ivory Coast defender Arthur Boka yellow carded when he pulled down van Persie as he raced clear.

Victory was their 14th in succession and they go into the last 16 as one of the favorites.

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