While the vaunted Netherlands attack has naturally drawn most of the attention around the team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the achievement of captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst in becoming only the fourth Dutch player to win 100 caps should not be underplayed.
After the 2-0 win over Denmark on Monday, both the team and the Dutch Football Association presented the 35-year-old with gifts, and coach Bert van Marwijk, who made 'Gio' his captain when he took over in 2008, saluted the defender by calling him "a jewel in the sport".
It was undoubtedly an emotional moment for Van Bronckhorst, who has already announced he will retire from football after the tournament, but the unassuming left-back preferred to deflect attention towards the result. "I am very happy to win 100 caps and very proud to be captain at the World Cup," he said. "But I was much happier because the team won three points, which is what matters right now."
When asked about his importance to the team, the 2006 UEFA Champions League winner with Barcelona was typically demure, but his team-mates were quick to recognise the consistency he brings to an outfit well known for their highs and lows. "He's important for us not just as a player but as a person," said central defender Joris Mathijsen. "I have much respect for Gio and what he does. One hundred caps is so difficult to achieve in a team like this. It's his last tournament, and he's been so successful, so of course he is vital to our hopes here."
Defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong concurred but said that the situation is a bit different in the large and boisterous FIFA World Cup stadiums. "He's important of course, and he plays the role of captain so well," said the Manchester City player of Van Bronckhorst. "But on the pitch here it's hard to lead because you can't hear well in these noisy stadiums. And we have a lot of good characters in the side, and we've played together a lot, so we don't just rely on him alone as the one captain."
There has been a lot of talk recently that this has been one of the most harmonious and positive Dutch teams in recent memory, but Van Bronckhorst, who has played for Feyenoord since the 2007/8 season, was again modesty personified when asked if he was part of the reason for that. "The good mood in the team is not about me," he said. "There are a lot of mature players in the team, and we all contribute and help guide the other players when we can."
Van Bronckhorst is not just a leader. He is still a wily defender, as he demonstrated in shutting down veteran Danish winger Dennis Rommedahl in their match-up down the flank on Monday. And after joining Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu in the century club, he would love to end his career achieving something that none of the great Dutch players of the past have done: lift the FIFA World Cup.
"We have never been able to do that," said the man who made his debut in 1996 and who was sent off against Portugal at Germany 2006. "But we are just six wins away from making that history."