Giovanni van Bronckhorst is not the best player in the Netherlands team. He is, however, one of the side’s hardest workers, most experienced performers and leaders.
“I always try to run hard and give my best for the side,” said the humble captain, who, in his next breath, used the most flattering adjectives to describe his more acclaimed and creative team-mates like Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, just back to fitness and hoping to reach the peak of his powers in Durban tomorrow. “I am thrilled with the way the team has been playing here in South Africa,” the steady left-back told FIFA.com.
Having won a UEFA Champions League with Barcelona, the former Arsenal man knows a thing or two about what it takes to win trophies. “We’ve been putting in some strong, patient performances,” he went on, before admitting the three group-stage wins over Denmark, Japan and Cameroon left room for improvement.
“We can play better,” the 35-year-old Oranje captain – as good as a second coach out on the pitch – added. “In a tournament like this it’s a great thing if you can get results when you’re not playing at your best. This way you can build and get stronger, leaving room to improve as the games come.”
As the brass band, part of the travelling Dutch supporters’ circus, play on in the background, Van Bronckhorst knows there is serious work ahead. Meeting hungry outsiders Slovakia in the Round of16, there will be no margin for error.
“The pressure is mounting; this is true,” said the Feyenoord player. “The closer you get to the Final, the bigger the pressure is. This is natural. Not too many people were expecting Slovakia to reach the second round, but they deserve it,” added the Rotterdam-born player, who after 102 caps for his country still admits to “getting goose bumps every time” he pulls on the famous Oranje strip.
“We know what’s it’s like to go out of a tournament after one bad match,” added Van Bronckhorst, a member of the side that beat France and Italy at UEFA EURO 2008 before slumping to Russia in the first knockout round. He is hoping to avoid a similar fate here on South African soil. “It’s a familiar feeling actually, and we do not want to feel it again. I hope it will be different here,” said the man who was part of the Netherlands side that lost to Portugal in the last 16 at Germany 2006.
Perhaps the first world finals staged on the African continent will provide a new winner, which would be a first since 1998, when hosts France paraded the Trophy up and down the Champs-Elysées. Having been to the Final on two occasions in the 1970s, the Netherlands – European Champions in 1988 – have had little to put in their silverware case despite being considered historically among the chief innovators of the sport. Van Bronckhorst, who will retire after his last match here at the FIFA World Cup, is hoping it can end with a famous first for his country.
“My ultimate dream is to say goodbye with the Trophy in my hands,” he said, and as the brass band played a rousing rendition of the classic Dixieland standard ‘When the Saints go Marching in,’ he smiled and told FIFA.com: “We are a long way from home, but those fans give us a warm feeling and we want to give them something big to cheer about.”