A regular for both club and country, fans favourite Dirk Kuyt played an integral role as the Netherlands became the first European nation to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ last June. The flying winger has also enjoyed regular first-team action at Liverpool, where he has become a popular figure at Anfield after joining the club from Feyenoord in 2006.
Since being awarded his first cap by the legendary Marco van Basten in 2004, Kuyt has largely been an ever-present for his country playing at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2008. Now with 58 caps to his name, Kuyt, who played every match of the Netherlands qualifying campaign, is hoping to set alight South Africa 2010 after the team made a disappointing exit in Germany three years ago.
Kuyt sat down with FIFA.com prior to the Oranje's international against Australia on the weekend to discuss Dutch hopes for South Africa 2010, the honour of playing for Liverpool and the joy of giving back to a game which has given him so much.
FIFA.com: Did the qualifying campaign run as smoothly from your perspective as it seemed to for onlookers?
Dirk Kuyt: It went even better. The qualifying stages are always very difficult. You always play against very good countries. We won every game so we are more than happy with the results. Teams like Scotland and Norway are strong teams but because we played very well it looked easier than it was.
Has coach Bert van Marwijk added something to have the team doing so well in the qualifiers?
The qualifying stages went pretty over the last couple of years (prior to van Marwijk's arrival) because we qualified for the World Cup in Germany and also the Euros in Austria and Switzerland. When the new manager came it also went pretty well. I think we already had a very good group and we have a good manager who is keeping to build this team to progress and make it even better than it was.
Germany 2006 ultimately ended in disappointing fashion for the Netherlands... Is South Africa 2010 a case of unfinished business for the Oranje?
(In 2006) We had pretty good few games in the group, and then we got Portugal and it was a bit of a missed chance, and we felt we could do something more. We still have a few of the lads still playing in the team, and also for some of the lads it is the last chance to do something in a World Cup. I also believe we have a very good squad with lots of talents. Even if (the World Cup is ) only 6-7 months away we can still progress with this team and do better than last time.
Has the team set targets or any limits on how far you can go in South Africa?
In the end you try to win every game and win the tournament, but when you look at other countries like Spain, Argentina, Brazil, France, Italy, there are lots of countries with a lot of quality. It will be very difficult to lift the trophy at the end but for us we will try to reach the highest position that is possible. We have a strong belief, although we know that we have very good players, we are trying to continue with our team building as well and to progress in this (area). I think what we have to do is keep going as a team, but also try to become closer with each other and become even stronger friends. At the end I think that very small details will make the difference at the World Cup.
In years gone by there have been some problems within the Netherlands squad, so is it a good group that are now in the squad?
I think this is a very good group. Most of the players have been with each other for a long time. I think what happens in the past belongs to the past. I can't see any problems at this stage and I can't believe that it (squad disharmony) will happen during the World Cup.
At club level, Liverpool has suffered a few early-season losses but how do you feel the season is shaping up?
I was very disappointed in the beginning that we got beaten twice. After that we picked it up and we won a couple of games in a row. But then we had another defeat away at Stamford Bridge at Chelsea. It was a very difficult game, but I still think we could do something more in this game. It is a very tough league, it is a very long season and there are still chances for Liverpool. So we have to keep coming as a team and concentrate on our own game and winning every upcoming game. I'm sure in a month or in a couple of months that we will be there. The games will be decided on small details and I think that is what happened at Chelsea.
Liverpool's 19-year title drought is often mentioned. Is that a factor which plays on the minds of the players at Anfield or does it just add to the determination?
Everybody knows how much the supporters want to lift the Premier league trophy. As a player for Liverpool, you always want to win everything, so at the start of the every season you aim to achieve as many trophies possible. This is a special trophy for everyone, for the supporters, for the team and for everyone that loves Liverpool, you can see that.
You seem very happy and settled in the team, are you enjoying life on and off the pitch at Liverpool?
I am a very happy person. I love the city of Liverpool, very nice, warm and respected people. I love Liverpool Football Club. Every day that I can be there, it makes me more than happy. I try to play as good and as long as possible for Liverpool.
You seem popular with the Anfield crowd. How much of an inspiration is the Anfield atmosphere for you?
To play in England is already unbelievable, when you look at all the supporters. If you play for Liverpool it is unbelievable and the supporters are an extra dimension. I have never seen such good supporters before I came to Anfield. I was used to playing at Feyenoord with a fantastic crowd, definitely the best in Holland, but when I came to Anfield it was another level. It really helps us and I'm sure it helps us when we are in difficult times, so the supporters are really important to us.
Do you have thoughts about where you will be playing your club football in the long-term, or have any thoughts of returning to the Netherlands one day?
I have just signed an extension of my Liverpool contract so I am more than happy. I am just trying to keep going (at Liverpool) for as long as possible, and we will see what the future brings. I will always have a special feeling for Feyenoord. It was, and still is a very important club for me, but at the moment I am very happy at Liverpool.
On a personal note, do you have specific short-term and long-term goals?
For me it is a case of trying to win every game. I am a winner, and for me the most important thing is trying to win the next game. I just want to win everything. For me every game is just as important, and if you aim to win every game you will win trophies and that is what it's all about for me.
You have been used in a variety of position but do you have a personal preference to play wide or in the middle?
To me it doesn't really matter. Throughout my career I have played in different positions. I think I am a natural born striker. For me it is absolutely no problem to play in whichever position. I am just enjoying myself as long as I can be important to the team.
Can you tell us about the Dirk Kuyt Foundation which you helped set up to assist disadvantaged children in your homeland and also in other countries. What do you get out of it and what does it mean to you?
The Dirk Kuyt foundation we started a few years ago together with some people from the village from where I came from. It is very exciting because in a small time it is already a big foundation and already we have been able to do many good things. At the moment we are supporting disabled people in playing all different types of sports. We have a lot of activities going on in Holland. I am very happy that I can be involved in this kind of thing because football has given me so much and it is good to be able to give something back.