On 6 April 1652, a group of Dutch pioneers landed near the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first Europeans to settle in South Africa. Some 358 years and three months later, another group from the Netherlands are seeking a place in the history books. Victory over Spain in Sunday’s Final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ would see the Dutch crowned world champions for the first time.
"I’m very proud. It's only the third time we’ve ever made it to the Final,” Giovanni van Bronckhorst told FIFA.com following a 3-2 semi-final victory over Uruguay. "Being part of your country’s first-ever World Cup-winning team would be very special. We have the chance to make history,” Van Bronckhorst continued.
Always proud to wear the shirt
Quite apart from the chance of lifting the most famous trophy in sport, the meeting with Spain at Soccer City in Johannesburg is a momentous occasion for the 35-year-old Elftal captain. On 12 May this year, Gio announced he was bringing down the curtain on an illustrious 17-year professional career after the FIFA World Cup. There could hardly be a more fitting setting than the Final.
"It's the right moment to call it a day. I’ll be devoting my time to other things in the future,” said Van Bronckhorst, who will earn his 106th senior cap against Spain and go third in the Netherlands’ all-time appearance list. "I’m very proud of playing more than 100 times in 14 years,” the player told FIFA two weeks ago, "I still get goose-bumps every time I run out onto the field for my country."
Van Bronckhorst’s career began in Rotterdam with Feyenoord, where he was promoted to the senior squad from the youth section in 1993. He moved to Glasgow giants Rangers (1998-2001), Arsenal (2001-2003) and Barcelona, before returning to Feyenoord in the summer of 2007. His glittering honours collection includes two league titles and a cup triumph with Rangers, one Premier League and two FA Cup winners’ medals with Arsenal, and two league triumphs with Barça. He has twice been a cup winner in his home country.
However, the undisputed highlight of his career to date was winning the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2006. "At club level, there’s nothing greater for a player and his team than winning the Champions League,” Van Bronckhorst said. "I’m really glad I had the chance to experience it." Sunday’s match in part represents a reunion between the Elftal skipper and a number of his former Barcelona team-mates.
One last time
"Spain are a quality team. We’ll need a really big performance to beat them. But we’ll start out with great confidence, as we’re a very experienced and mature team. We’re in the Final, and we deserve to be there,” Van Bronckhorst told FIFA.com. The veteran has taken to heart and memorised a saying from his Barcelona days: "You don’t play finals, you win finals! Everything depends on whether you win the final or not. That’s the most important thing."
In the period immediately prior to Sunday’s showdown, Gio will gee up his team-mates in the tunnel, one last time. Then, watched by millions upon millions around the world, he will lead his team out onto the pitch, one last time.
A last burst of pride during the national anthem, and one last match: "There can’t be a better game with which to say farewell. I could yet be saying goodbye with the cup in my hands."