Alongside Spain and England, the Netherlands are currently the most successful team in European qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With five wins out of five, 12 goals scored and just one conceded, the men in orange have utterly dominated their Group 9 opponents so far.
The Dutch are led by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, captain for all five qualifiers to date. The 34-year-old is a charismatic leader and key personality both on and off the field.
After spells with RKC Waalwijk (1993-94) and Feyenoord (1994-98), he arrived in Britain in 1998, spending three seasons with Glasgow outfit Rangers, before moving to England and north London giants Arsenal. Gio spent two seasons in the Premier League before switching to Barcelona, where he collected a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal in 2006.
His honours collection makes impressive reading, as it includes the Dutch Cup (1995, 2008), Scottish championship (1999, 2000), Scottish Cup (1999, 2000), Scottish League Cup (1999), English championship (2002), English FA Cup (2002), English League Cup (2002), Spanish championship (2005, 2006) and Spanish Super Cup (2005, 2006).
However, Van Bronckhorst has yet to taste major success with his national team. The player intends that to change at next year’s 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where he aims to lead out his side as captain. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the seasoned campaigner, who has now returned to his roots with Feyenoord.
FIFA.com: Your CV includes spells with Barcelona, Arsenal, Rangers and Feyenoord, four of Europe’s biggest clubs. Where did you enjoy yourself the most?
Van Bronckhorst: I grew up at Feyenoord, but my most successful spell was with Barcelona, and I have to say I had a totally fantastic time in Spain.
Feyenoord are out of the UEFA Cup and stuck in mid-table in the Eredivisie. What’s up in Rotterdam at the moment?
A number of things have gone wrong, but there’s no point raking over the past. What matters now is Feyenoord working towards a better future.
You’re a UEFA Champions League winner, and you boast a number of domestic championship medals. What are your goals for the future?
My biggest target is to win the Dutch league with Feyenoord, and I’d also like to play at the World Cup in South Africa next year.
Is there any other club you would like to play for?
I’m just delighted to represent Feyenoord and the Netherlands national team.
You’ve appeared both as a defender and in midfield. What’s your favoured position and why?
I have no preference. I’ve been most successful at left-back, but I enjoy playing in midfield just as much.
With five wins from five matches, the Netherlands are all but guaranteed a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. What can possibly go wrong now?
That’s easy enough for you to say. It could quite easily go wrong actually. We won’t be getting into the holiday mood until we’re absolutely certain of qualifying.
Assuming you do qualify, you’ll be 35 by the time of the FIFA World Cup. Would it be your last major tournament?
That’s a pretty safe bet, yes.
What does representing your country mean to you personally?
I’ve always regarded playing for the Netherlands as a great honour. I’m very proud to be captain of the national team at the present time. It’s what you dream about as a kid.
Are the Netherlands good enough to challenge for the trophy next year?
The World Cup isn’t the same as the Olympics – you go there aiming to win. However, that doesn’t mean you haven’t played well at the tournament if you don’t win it.
The Dutch always go into these tournaments as one of the favourites, but more than 20 years have passed since your last major triumph, the 1988 European championship. Why has reality not matched expectations?
We’ve always produced outstanding players, but for whatever reason, we’ve only once come up with a truly great team. And let’s not forget how small we are compared to the habitual winners, the Brazils, Italys, Germanys and even the Argentinas of this world. Looking at it from this perspective, our record of two runners-up finishes (1974 and 1978) and some semi-final appearances isn’t at all bad.
Where do the Dutch currently stand in terms of the world game?
We’re third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, so I’d say we’re currently among the best teams in the world.
You have earned more than 80 caps. What are your most memorable matches?
Apart from my first goal, which I scored against Brazil, I have good memories of our meeting with World Cup holders Italy at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. I had a really good game, and I felt I made an important contribution to an impressive victory.
Do you have an idol?
When I was younger, I worshipped Diego Maradona. But on the other hand, who didn’t?
What are your plans for life after hanging up your boots?
I haven’t begun thinking about it yet. I’m not even convinced I’ll stay in the game.