"You can see the kind of player he is and how important he is to us as a team," Hamburg youngster Eljero Elia told FIFA.com about the return of Arjen Robben to the Netherlands team. "The first thing he did was score a goal, and he created chance after chance after that."
Having played just 17 minutes of the Netherlands' three Group E victories, Arjen Robben – one of the true danger men of world football – made his return to the first XI with a bang on Monday night in Durban. Racing into space with his blinding pace, he left two Slovakia defenders for dead before firing low and hard past goalkeeper Jan Mucha to put one Dutch foot in the quarter-finals after only 18 minutes. "You can't expect anything in a World Cup, you have to fight for it, and I am thrilled to be back and helping out," said the Bayern Munich winger. "The coach told me I would be in the team before the game so I was ready, and I am thrilled to have done my part in reaching the quarter-finals."
Robben earned the unfortunate nickname 'hombre de cristal' (man of glass) during his time in Spain with Real Madrid and his injury woes are well documented. He looked like he might miss the entire finals here in South Africa after damaging his hamstring in a friendly with Hungary but coach Bert van Marwijk took his time with the player who, on his day, is one of the most explosive in the game. After leaving him out of two full games in the group stage, and only using him in the final stages of the third against Cameroon, the coach needed to call on his ace to cover for Rafael van der Vaart, who picked up a slight calf strain against the Indomitable Lions.
"It is obvious what he's worth as a player," Wesley Sneijder, scorer of the second Dutch goal in the 2-1 win, added to FIFA.com. "We needed him today." Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst was equally effusive in his praise of the speedy wide man, who had two more chances to score and generally terrorised the Slovakia defence for the full 70 minutes he spent on the pitch. "He's a dangerous player and one who puts a defence out of sorts and back on their heels. It's great to have him back."
Robben's early goal was only the second the Dutch – playing a more defensive brand of football than normal – have scored in the first half at these world finals. It was crucial in putting the Slovaks on the back foot. As Robben – a finalist with Bayern in this year's UEFA Champions League – continued to discuss his triumphant return, Van der Vaart strolled calmly and comfortably through the hallway behind him. He responded to journalists' queries as to his health with a South African style thumbs-up. It seems Van Marwijk may well have a selection problem in attack come the next match against either Brazil or Chile.
The hero of the hour, though, is not allowing himself to be distracted by the tantalising prospect of a date with the mighty Brazil in last eight. "It's time to relax now," Robben concluded. "We have to get our strength back and take what comes, be it Brazil or whoever."