Sao Paulo: Former Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk is betting on Arjen Robben to outshine Lionel Messi as the Netherlands prepare to take on Argentina for a place in the World Cup final tomorrow.
The diving controversies which have shrouded Robben’s campaign in Brazil cannot mask the fact that the Bayern Munich star has been Holland’s most consistently effective attacker.
And that leaves van Marwijk confident that the Dutch are holding the trump card heading into the battle with Messi and Argentina in Sao Paulo.
“Argentina have got Messi, we’ve got Robben. And quite frankly, I think the better player is Arjen,” said van Marwijk, Holland’s coach at the last World Cup in South Africa four years ago.
“When I see how Robben is playing in this tournament, I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous. There’s a big difference to 2010,” van Marwijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS television.
Four years ago, Arjen was injured just before the start of the tournament in a friendly against Hungary.
“He was carrying the injury for the whole tournament and was never really 100 percent. But this year he’s been unstoppable.”
Van Marwijk believes a fully fit and firing Robben might just have made the difference between winning and losing the 2010 final against Spain.
Robben remains haunted by his failure to convert a glorious chance in the final, when he was denied by Iker Casillas after being put clean through on the Spanish goal in normal time.
“It is part of sport, just a moment, a snapshot,” said Robben. “But it will be part of me and part of my career for all of my life.”
But with Robben in his current form, many believe that the Dutch can dream of winning the World Cup after three previous defeats in the final.
Former international and current coach of PSV Eindhoven Philipp Cocu says simply that the 30-year-old is “in the form of his life”.
“With him in the team there is no reason to fear Argentina. We certainly have as much quality as the South Americans,” Cocu told Voetbal International magazine. “When I see the way Arjen was sprinting in the final minutes against Costa Rica … it’s incredible,” Cocu added.
Robben has contributed three goals on Holland’s journey to the semi-finals, as well as several decisive interventions such as the darting run which led to the match-winning penalty in the last 16 against Mexico.
But the veteran is also valued for his leadership on and off the pitch, a trusted senior officer in the Oranje army.
“When we had the drinks break in the second half against Mexico, it was Arjen who took responsibility to get everyone going, to rally morale,” Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal revealed.
Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum says simply: “Arjen is a captain, a real leader of men.”
“During games, he makes things easier for the other players. Off the pitch he keeps us on our toes,” said Wijnaldum.
“On several occasions he has spoken to the younger players about the frustration of Euro 2008, when they beat France, Italy and Romania and then went out in the next round.
Arjen stops us from complacency. He demands that we train with intensity.”