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'Dutch Messi' Robben is ready

Updated: 2014-07-09 07:27
By Agence France-Presse in Sao Paulo ( China Daily)


Former Netherlands coach believes speedy star can lead team to the Cup

Former Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk is betting on Arjen Robben to outshine Lionel Messi as the Netherlands prepare to take on Argentina for a place in the World Cup final on Wednesday.

The diving controversies which have shrouded Robben's campaign in Brazil cannot mask the fact the Bayern Munich star has been Holland's most consistently effective attacker.

And that leaves van Marwijk confident the Dutch are holding the trump card heading into the battle with Messi and Argentina in Sao Paulo.

"Argentina have got Messi, we've got Robben. And quite frankly, I think the better player is Arjen," said van Marwijk, Holland's coach at the World Cup in South Africa four years ago.

"When I see how Robben is playing in this tournament, I have to admit I'm a little bit jealous. There's a big difference to 2010," van Marwijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS television.

"Four years ago, Arjen was injured just before the start of the tournament in a friendly against Hungary.

"He was carrying the injury for the whole tournament and was never really 100 percent. But this year he's been unstoppable."

Van Marwijk believes a fully fit and firing Robben might just have made the difference between winning and losing the 2010 final against Spain.

Robben remains haunted by his failure to convert a glorious chance in the final, when he was denied by Iker Casillas after being put clean through on the Spanish goal in normal time.

"It is part of sport, just a moment, a snapshot," said Robben. "But it will be part of me and part of my career for all of my life."

But with Robben in his current form, many believe the Dutch can dream of winning the World Cup after three previous defeats in the final.

Former international and current coach of PSV Eindhoven, Philipp Cocu, says simply that the 30-year-old is "in the form of his life".

"With him in the team there is no reason to fear Argentina. We certainly have as much quality as the South Americans," Cocu told Voetbal International magazine. "When I see the way Arjen was sprinting in the final minutes against Costa Rica ... it's incredible," Cocu said.

Robben has contributed three goals on Holland's journey to the semifinals, as well as several decisive interventions, such as the darting run which led to the match-winning penalty in the last 16 against Mexico.

But the veteran is also valued for his leadership on and off the pitch, a trusted senior officer in the Oranje army.

"When we had the drinks break in the second half against Mexico, it was Arjen who took responsibility to get everyone going, to rally morale," Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said.

Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum says simply: "Arjen is a captain, a real leader of men.

"During games, he makes things easier for the other players. Off the pitch he keeps us on our toes," said Wijnaldum.

"On several occasions he has spoken to the younger players about the frustration of Euro 2008, when they beat France, Italy and Romania and then went out in the next round.

"Arjen stops us from complacency. He demands that we train with intensity."


The on-field battles that will be key in Wednesday's World Cup semifinal between the Netherlands and Argentina in Sao Paulo:

Robin van Persie vs Martin Demichelis: Manchester United striker van Persie will be eager to finally end his record of never having scored in the knockout stages of a major international tournament and will find himself up against an Argentina defense that could be marshaled by Manchester City man Demichelis.

Against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, van Persie, 30, and his fellow attackers were unable to breach a packed opposition defense, but Argentina's commitment to getting forward should give him some more space to play with.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella could yet spring a surprise and play with three centerbacks in Sao Paulo, although Demichelis will hope to keep his place regardless.

Arjen Robben vs Marcos Rojo: Now 30, Robben remains one of the most dangerous wingers in the game, the Bayern Munich man having maintained his terrifying pace on the ball.

Robben loves to cut inside from the right flank onto his left foot, a move that has seen him score countless important goals throughout his career. FIFA statistics show he has made 17 solo dribbles into the opposition area, nine more than any other player.

For Argentina, Rojo is available again after suspension and seems certain to return at leftback in place of Jose Maria Basanta.

Rojo has been arguably Argentina's best defender at the competition, but he has not yet come up against an opponent of Robben's quality.

Wesley Sneijder vs Javier Mascherano: Coming into the World Cup, Sneijder's place in the Dutch side was the subject of some doubt. But he has been a prominent player in Louis van Gaal's midfield thanks to his creativity as well as his willingness to go for goal.

Only Robben has had more attempts on goal than the Galatasaray man, who is also one of just two players to have been denied by the woodwork on two occasions. The other is France midfielder Yohan Cabaye.

In opposition to Sneijder, Mascherano patrols in front of the Argentina defense. While his passing ability should not be underestimated, he adds the grit in the middle of the park and will look to curb Sneijder.

The Dutch defense vs Lionel Messi: The injury suffered by Angel di Maria in the win over Belgium is a big blow to Argentina, which will miss his threat coming forward from midfield. Nevertheless, as long as Messi is available, Sabella's side should not need to worry too much.

Van Gaal has favored a three-man central defense so far, and if he sticks with that system the Dutch should have the numbers to cope with Messi as well as Gonzalo Higuain and whoever else lines up in attack for Argentina.

However, they lack a world-class centerback, and the absence of the injured Nigel de Jong deprives the Dutch of much-needed bite deep in midfield. Bruno Martins Indi could step forward into that role, or Daley Blind. Whoever it is will have their hands full with Messi.

 'Dutch Messi' Robben is ready

Netherlands' forward Arjen Robben (left) and his Argentine counterpart, Lionel Messi, are poised to set the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo alight on Wednesday. Martin Bernetti / Nelson Almeida / Agence France-presse


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