June 29th, 2010
Robben slides across the pitch to celebrate his goal (Photo: Reuters)
The Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship, the legends say, forever doomed to sail around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
It is also the nickname given to Arjen Robben, Holland’s quicksilver winger, who may as well have been a phantom for the way he endlessly spirited through the Slovakia defence and left their World Cup dreams shattered on the rocks.
The Dutch winger’s superb performance ensured Holland sailed on to a quarter-final in Port Elizabeth on Friday, buoyed with confidence from a record 23-game unbeaten run.
Ever since reaching successive finals in 1974 and 1978, Holland have flattered to deceive, navigating the group stages comfortably only to sink in the knockout rounds.
Robben said: ‘Everyone has always accused us of playing nice football and never winning anything.
‘We want to improve. Although we’re not at our best yet, we are being very efficient. It’s all about winning.’
This was Robben’s first start of the tournament and he ran riot, opening the scoring and torturing the Slovakia defence. If the Bayern Munich man can stay physically intact, the Dutch have a real chance.
But he remains an injury-prone artiste; more Air on a Hamstring than on a G String.
Every time he sets off on a run, you wonder when he is going to pull up clutching the back of his leg. Yet he is the player who can unlock any defence. Without him Holland have lacked flair.
As Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said: ‘We prepared to face Robben for three days but, wow, he is an absolute genius!’
Robben’s importance was clear after 18 minutes, when Wesley Sneijder sent a searing 50-yard pass downfield, picking out the winger superbly.
Robben cut inside Radoslav Zabavnik, skipped past Jan Durica and, as Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel made a desperate attempt to shore up his defence, the Dutchman fired through all three and low into the net.
Within six minutes of the restart, Robben produced a carbon copy run, cutting inside Zabavnik and Durica again and whipping in a low shot, only for Jan Mucha to tip it brilliantly around the post.
Mucha made a string of fine saves, one with his face, as Holland picked their way through his defence.
The East Europeans offered little. Weiss made one change to the side who shocked Italy, bringing in his imaginatively titled son Vladimir Weiss Jnr.
Sadly, the manager’s tactical creativity was as inspired as his choice of name.
The Slovaks didn’t have a shot on target until past the hour when Miroslav Stoch’s searing effort was tipped over by Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who also blocked Robert Vittek’s shot moments later when the Slovak looked certain to score.
Robben was substituted and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie followed, visibly irritated by the decision.
But the Dutch wrapped up the game when Mucha charged out to a free-kick, only for Dirk Kuyt to steal in front of him and cross for Sneijder to score.
Slovakia substitute Martin Jakubko was tripped by Stekelenburg and Vittek turned in the 94th-minute penalty, but it was too little too late.
HOLLAND (4-5-1): Stekelenburg 8; Van
der Wiel 7, Heitinga 7, Mathijsen 7, Van
Bronckhorst 6; Kuyt 6, Van Bommel 7,
Sneijder 8 (Afellay 90min, 5), De Jong 7,
Robben 9 (Elia 70, 6); Van Persie 7
(Huntelaar 79, 6).
Booked: Robben, Stekelenburg.
SLOVAKIA (4-4-2): Mucha 8; Pekarik 6,
Skrtel 6, Durica 5, Zabavnik 5 (Jakubko
88, 6); Weiss 6, Stoch 7, Hamsik 6
(Sapara 88, 5) Vittek 7; Kucka 7,
Jendrisek 6 (Kopunek, 71 6).
Booked: Kucka, Kopunek, Skrtel.
Man of the match: Arjen Robben.
Referee: Alberto Undiano (Spain).
Source: Daily Mail
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