In the run up to the FIFA World Cup™, many countries unearth an exciting young gem. Think of the likes of Brazil's Pele in 1958, Enzo Scifo for Belgium in 1986, and England striker Michael Owen 12 years ago. Now, supporters of the Netherlands think they may have found a major talent of their own heading into South Africa 2010.
Eljero Elia began his career at ADO Den Haag before moving to Twente to showcase his skills. A transfer to the Bundesliga really kick-started his career. Signing for Hamburg in the summer of 2009, he made his debut for the Dutch national team within two months. Scottish fans will be all too familiar with the 23-year-old, after he scored the only goal in front of the Tartan Army in a FIFA World Cup qualifier last September.
He is expected to play a key role in the Oranje's campaign to win the FIFA World Cup. While he may not make the first team, as a versatile winger and forward he'll provide strong competition for the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. FIFA.com sat down with Elia to discuss the Netherlands group games against Denmark, Japan and Cameroon, the prospect of playing at altitude and the players he think will illuminate South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: Eljero, the Netherlands are the favourites in Group E. Tell us about your team and their strengths.
Eljero Elia: We have a very strong team, a lot of big players. I've been in the squad for about six months now and I want to stay in the team. We fight for each other now. It's not always been like that in previous years.
Messi, because he has everything. And also Ronaldo. They are players who are complete, they can change a game, and they’re two of the players that can take the Golden Ball.
You are playing Denmark. What are their strengths and who will you have to watch out for?
Last week with Hamburg we played against Werder Bremen and Daniel Jensen was playing. He’s a very good defensive midfielder. He can control the game very well and he’s very strong in the battles. The Danish tactics are very strong and there’s (Jesper) Gronkjaer and (Dennis) Rommedahl, very fast players on the wings we have to watch out.
What is going to make the difference in the game against Denmark?
I think the tactics will be important. But also we have great players who can change a game in one second. We have to build on that, we have to play football. The best team will win.
Japan is going to be a difficult game for you. What do you know about the Japanese and the way they play football?
We played against Japan eight months ago and in the first half, they played as well as us and everybody was in shock saying 'What’s wrong?' But in the second half we changed the game.
You’re going to play Cameroon as well. Tell us your impression of the Indomitable Lions.
I watched the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and they had some great battles. They play very hard and put in some tough tackles. We have to watch out for the tackles and we have to play our own game.
Conditions will be very different across South Africa; you may be playing at altitude, you may be playing in the cold. How does that affect you as a player and the team in the way they play?
I think the pressure will be on from the altitude. That could be a problem but the cold won't be. A lot of Dutch players play in the Netherlands and in Germany. It's very cold around Europe, except in Spain, so for Dutch players, the climate's not a problem.
Talk us through your preparation for a game. What happens in the 90 minutes before kick-off?
I try to focus, concentrate and enjoy myself, so I listen to my music. Sometimes I go on a bike to warm my body up. Later, the coach talks to the players one-on-one. He tells you what he expects from you, what he wants you to do on the field. Then you go outside, do your exercises with the team, and then you're ready.
We have a very strong team, a lot of big players. We fight for each other now. It's not always been like that in previous years.
How much of a difference does a team talk from the coach make?
The coach can say everything he wants but you have to do it by yourself.
The adidas Golden Ball is given to the best player at the FIFA World Cup. Which players do you think might be getting it and why?
(Lionel) Messi, because he has everything. He’s great, he can score goals, he plays well for Barcelona and maybe he’s going to play well in the FIFA World Cup. And also (Cristiano) Ronaldo. They are players who are complete, they can do everything in a game, they can change a game and they’re two of the players that can take the Golden Ball from adidas.
You've been on the bench a few times during your international career so far. How difficult is that experience of watching a big game play out in front of you?
Everybody knows that you have to play to be important, to be a big player. But if you are an upcoming player like me and you sit on the bench it's very normal - you have to learn from it.