Stuttgart, June 16:

The Netherlands booked a place in the last 16 of the World Cup with a thrilling 2-1 win over a spirited Ivory Coast in a Group C match here on Friday.

The result spelled heartbreak for the African Nations Cup runners-up, however, with Argentina’s 6-0 trouncing of Serbia and Montenegro earlier on Friday assuring the South Americans got the other qualifying spot from the group of death. The Dutch took the lead with two goals midway through the first-half but Ivory Coast hit back with a goal before the interval and gave the Oranje a real run for their money throughout a pulsating match.

Robin van Persie was a constant thorn in the Africans’ side and it was no surprise when one of many jinking runs ended with a free-kick on the edge of the area in the 23rd minute.

The Arsenal winger stepped up and blasted in a curling left-footed free-kick just over the head of the diminutive Arthur Boka and beyond the reach of diving goalkeeper Jean-Jacques Tizie. The Dutch lead was doubled four minutes later, a deft through ball by Arjen Robben falling into the path of the advancing Ruud van Nistlerooy. The out-of-favour Manchester United striker, whom Dutch coach Marco van Basten kept faith with despite the admission he was out of form, calmly stroked home past the stranded Tizie for his first World Cup goal.

But Ivory Coast pulled one back in the 38th minute through Nice striker Bakary Kone who was allowed to run across the face of the edge of the penalty box before drilling an excellent shot high beyond Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. That crowned a period of good possession for the Africans, who had come within inches of scoring five minutes earlier through Didier Zokora, whose cracking 25-yard shot beat van der Sar only to come back off the woodwork.

Didier Drogba, who was booked for fouling van der Sar and will miss the last match against the Serbs, missed the chance to draw the Ivory Coast level in the 42nd minute, making a hash of a two-on-one with fellow striker Aruna Kone unmarked and the goalline begging.