EURO 2012 GROUP B:Group of Death:Van Marwijk’s headache,Dutch genius and Oranje’s lucky charm

The Dutch began their EURO 2012 journey with a surprise defeat.Denmark beat them by a Krohn-Dehli goal to nil.It was special moment for him as he played for eight years in Holland and he has a Dutch girlfriend.A win in that game would have given Bert Van Marwijk’s team a little breathing space against the highly-fancied Germans but now three points are a must.

Clashes between the Netherlands and neighbours Germany always have extra spice but Wednesday’s Euro 2012 Group B encounter is about much more than rivalry.

Here’s a quick profile of the Dutch team:

Ranked number 4 in the World,Oranje scored the most goals on their way to qualify to Euro 2012, 37 goals in 10 games,an average of 3,7 per game.The last big tournament showed that the Oranje have also learned how to save their energy, keep the score, wait for the final whistle. The main asset the central defence has got is mutual understanding created by continuously playing together (Heitinga and Mathijsen) but Mathijsen’s absence in the group opener was not much felt as Ron Vlaar deputised for him. At the back, first choice central defender Joris Mathijsen could return to the starting lineup after resuming full training. If he is deemed match fit then stand-in Ron Vlaar would miss out.

Van Marwijk  is just famous for bringing his son-in-law Mark van Bommel back to the national team and giving him the captain’s armband. He repeated the best results of Netherlands in the World Cup history, now he will be looking for repeating the best result of them in the European Championships. He is lucky enough to have so many world class players in his team.

It looked like Van Marwijk showed his hand against Northern Ireland before the European Championship when he seemingly started with his first choice XI: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, Van Bommel, De Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Afellay and Van Persie

His strategy appears to be the same as in 2010, except for Afellay taking Kuijt’s place in the side.

This gives them a greater, more obvious threat, going forward and is an understandable change taking in to account both Kuijt’s lack of games but also his impact coming off the bench at Liverpool. Afellay also comes in to the tournament hungry and fresh after seven months out with a knee injury.It is crucial for Holland to focus their attacking strategy.

Statistics against

Denmark

Krohn-Dehli scored the only goal in Denmark’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in UEFA Euro 2012.Twenty years ago is yet another day when Netherlands, hot favorites to win the trophy, left a major competition earlier than expected. This time it was Denmark, sudden guests at the tournament, to stop them. The match ended 2-2 and the Danish legend Peter Schmeichel saved the after-match penalty from the Dutch legend Marco Van Basten, thus sending the Netherlands home after semi-finals.The Dutch also beat Denmark in South Africa,exactly 2 years ago.

Germany

The rivalry between Netherlands and the German national football team is so intense. In the 1988 European Championship the Dutch not only equalized but also scored the match winner on the 88th minute of the semi-final in Hamburg, entering the final. They went on to win the tournament, but the trophy was hardly worthier than eliminating the Germans in their own turf. This historical match is considered to lessen the war-related anti-German sentiment in the Dutch society.Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal also sealed a 1-1 draw when the two teams met at EURO 2004.

Portugal

Only once have the Dutch won against the Portuguese so far, with the “battle of Nuremberg” being no exception, when at the World Cup 2006 Round of 16 match the sides received 16 yellow and 4 red cards in total, a FIFA all-time record. The Portuguese managed to score a goal at some point when the night was young. 1:0.

TRAITOR|Guus Hiddink

June 21,2008 is a day I will never forget for so many reasons.That day was my sister’s 25th birthday and the Dutch were playing the Russians that evening.The Russians beat the Dutch that night.

Russia coach Guus Hiddink got the result he wanted to become a traitor in his native Holland after his team’s 3-1 quarter-final win after extra-time dumped the Dutch out of Euro 2008.

The former Holland coach and ex-Socceroos mentor had said he would be happy to be a Dutch traitor if his Russian team beat his countrymen and two goals in extra time broke Dutch hearts on June 21,2008.

Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy had headed home an 86th minute equaliser to give the Dutch a life-line — and take him alongside Johan Cruyff on 33 goals for the national side — but super sub Dmitri Torbinsky grabbed a second in the 112th minute, before Andrei Arshavin settled it with a third on 116 minutes.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that was the first time Russia had made the knock-out stages of a major tournament.

But it was heart-break for Holland as the defeat signalled the last game in charge for Dutch coach Marco van Basten — who joined Ajax the following season on a four-year deal.The former AC Milan striker failed in his bid to bow out out on a high by giving the Netherlands a second European crown to the one he helped win in 1988.

His Dutch team had come into the Basel quarter-final with a 100 percent record from Group C having handed out comprehensive defeats to both 2006 World Cup finalists France (4-1) and Italy (3-0) on route.

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

In the 2010 World Cup the Dutch played a slightly lob-sided 4-2-3-1 made up of Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt and Van Persie.

The team selection and tactics allowed Robben the freedom to play his normal game as Kuyt was able to tuck inside and add extra strength, when needed, to the midfield in transition and when out of possession generally.

Van Persie naturally drifted in between the opposition right-sided centre back and full back creating room for Robben to move in to on the right.

In qualifying for the European Championships, Van Marwijk phased out De Jong as a second holding midfield player and often used Van der Vaart or Kevin Strootman in his place.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was top goalscorer in qualifying with 12 goals, and he has 31 goals in 54 appearances.Very impressive.

GROUP E GP GD PTS
1 Netherlands (Q) 10 9 0 1 29 27
2 Sweden (Q) 10 8 0 2 20 24
3 Hungary 10 6 1 3 8 19
4 Finland 10 3 1 6 0 10
5 Moldova 10 3 0 7 -4 9
6 San Marino 10 0 0 10 -53 0

TOP SCORERS

12 – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
6 – Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuijt
3 – Ibrahim Afellay, Wesley Sneijder
2 – Ruud van Nistelrooy
1 – John Heitinga, Rafael van der Vaart, Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum, Luuk de Jong

PAST RECORDS IN THE EUROS

The Netherlands didn’t make their first appearance until 1976. Oranje have been regulars though and they haven’t missed out since 1984.Holland’s biggest success came in 1988 when they beat England, Republic of Ireland, Germany and Soviet Union to win their only major tournament in history.

1960
Did not enter
1988
Winners
1964
Did not qualify 1992
Semi-finalists
1968
Did not qualify
1996
Quarter-finalists
1972
Did not qualify 2000
Semi-finalists
1976
Semi-finalists 2004
Semi-finalists
1980
Group stage
2008
Quarter-finalists
1984
Did not qualify 2012
Qualified as group winners

THE MANAGER | Bert van Marwijk

We did a lot of good work but that’s the game – we were the best team, but you have to score to win..”Bert van Marwijk

Former Feyenoord and Borussia Dortmund manager Lambertus van Marwijk (60) replaced Marco van Basten as national team coach after Euro 2008 and has so far done everything right that his predecessor did not.

The former winger played 393 matches in the Dutch highest division (Eredivisie). In 1975, he was called up by Rinus Michels to play for Oranje in a friendly match against Yugoslavia, which was his only cap. He played for Go Ahead Eagles, AZ’67, MVV Maastricht and Fortuna Sittard.

Whereas in the past, it was only a matter of time before internal conflicts would ruin the harmony within the team, under Van Marwijk there have not been any conflicts.His somewhat conservative, yet strict, approach has proven to be the way to go for this Dutch team as Oranje have won 23 out of their 26 competitive games under Van Marwijk, a stunning 92 per cent winning record.

Bert Van Marwijk has a lot of questions to answer and tactical and selection headaches to solve.He has possibly created more headaches than he has solved during qualification:

  • Can the defence, weak on paper, be strong enough without two holding midfielders?
  • Should he proceed with the same strategy that led Oranje to a World Cup final?
  • Should he change the system to fit his current in-form players and take away one of the two holding midfielders?
  • Can they play with two genuine forwards in wide positions, rather than Kuijt offering much needed defensive balance?
  • Can Van Persie and Huntelaar operate in the same team?
  • Can Van Persie play on the right (as he did towards the end of the qualifying rounds)?
  • Should the Dutch continue to build their strategy around Sneijder, or the in-form duo of Van Persie and Robben?

Prior to becoming the Dutch manager, Van Marwijk was known mainly for his double reign as manager of Feyenoord (2000-4 and 2007-8) and a mediocre spell at Borussia Dortmund in between.His spell in Germany must surely have had an influence as he has a more pragmatic approach to football than many other Dutch coaches.He has a stunning 68.75 per cent win rate as manager, a goal difference of  plus 70 and only six defeats.

Van Marwijk named a 23-man squad for Euro 2012 with the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder all involved.The squad was  reduced from 36 players to 27 by manager Bert Van Marwijk, who will be looking to go one better than the 2010 World Cup when Holland reached the final before losing to Spain in extra-time.Eight defenders were reduced to seven, with PSV’s Jetro Williams retaining his place, although the 23-man squad includes the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie.

Netherlands squad for Euro 2012
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Tim Krul (Newcastle).
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham).
Forwards: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).

 

THE GENERAL | Mark van Bommel

“I’m speechless,because these three points are very important”-Mark van Bommel

Mark Peter Gertruda Andreas van Bommel was selected by father-in-law Bert van Marwijk to succeed Giovanni van Bronckhorst as the new captain of the Netherlands, despite initial claims he did not want to be the new captain. Against San Marino Van Bommel captained the Dutch national team to a record breaking 11–0 victory in Eindhoven on 2 September 2011

The PSV Eindhoven bound midfielder (35) didn’t make a single appearance for Oranje from July 2006 until August 2008 because of a conflict with then national team coach Van Basten, but made his long awaited comeback the moment the Euro ’88 hero left his position.Van Bommel has since developed into a key player for Oranje earning 78 caps and scoring 10 goals in the process.His 78th cap was a defeat to Denmark,a game he would not love to remember.


Now approaching the end of his career, Mark van Bommel has been a Dutch international since 2000 but has never appeared at the UEFA European Championship finals. That will be rectified in June 2012 as he has been a midfield mainstay of father-in-law Bert van Marwijk’s side over the past four years.

He formed a superb partnership with Nigel de Jong as Holland’s defensive midfielders at the 2010 World Cup and Van Bommel’s intelligent movement, aggressive tackling, superb vision and leadership skills make him the first name on Van Marwijk’s list ahead of every game.Van Bommel is married to Andra, daughter of Bert van Marwijk, with whom he has three children: Thomas, Ruben and Renée.

Born in the province of Limburg, in south-east Netherlands, Van Bommel spent seven seasons with local club Fortuna Sittard, making his debut at 16, before joining PSV Eindhoven in 1999.He won the Eredivisie title in his first two seasons, skippering PSV to the second of those triumphs and two further titles, the second of which, in 2004/05, was accompanied by victory in the Dutch Cup, a run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League and his election as Dutch footballer of the year for the second time.Mark joined FC Barcelona, where fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard was the coach, and helped the Catalan club win the Liga and UEFA Champions League in only his season before leaving for FC Bayern München.

He dropped from the Netherlands team by Marco van Basten in 2005 but recalled for the 2006 FIFA World Cup – his first major tournament after sitting out UEFA EURO 2004 through injury; fell out with Van Basten again and missed UEFA EURO 2008 but restored, with considerable success, by Van Marwijk for the 2010 World Cup.He celebrated his seventh top-flight title in 11 years as Bayern won the 2009/10 Bundesliga, adding the German Cup for good measure, and appeared in his second UEFA Champions League final, which ended in defeat against FC Internazionale Milano.

Influential ever-present for the Netherlands as they finished runners-up to Spain at the 2010 World Cup, after which he was appointed Oranje captain for the start of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying following Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s retirement.The veteran moved to Milan on a free transfer in January 2011 and was sent off 54 minutes into his Serie A debut, a 2-0 victory at Calcio Catania; ended the season as a Scudetto winner and rejoined PSV on a one-year deal in May 2012.


GENIUS| Wesley Sneijder

The atmosphere is not the same as at the 2010 World Cup– Wesley Sneijder.

Wesley Sneijder (28) has already made 85 international appearances for the Netherlands since making his debut in April 2003 and the Inter playmaker is Oranje’s star player at the moment.He’s scored 24 times for his country.

The former Ajax and Real Madrid man is at the heart of every Dutch attack and his accurate long passes and intelligent through balls make life difficult for every defence, while Sneijder is a major threat from set-pieces and long-range strikes, too.Due to his impeccable placement and confirmed ability to score from free kicks, Sneijder earned the reputation as a dead-ball specialist.With short stature, he is quick, strong on the ball, and his passing range is enhanced by his ambidexterity.

He has found the net more often than any other midfielder in the history of Dutch football and his finishing in Oranje has been top class in the past two seasons. With five goals in seven games, Sneijder was joint top scorer at the 2010 World Cup.Sneijder scored 3 times in EURO 2012 qualifiers.

A classy two-footed midfielder with a powerful shot, Wesley Sneijder was the Netherlands’ leading light at UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Much will be expected again in Poland and Ukraine of the playmaker who has won league titles in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.He left his native Utrecht to join AFC Ajax’s academy as a schoolboy; twice voted young talent of year in the Netherlands – the second time after a brilliant 2006/07 season in which he scored 18 Eredivisie goals.

Sneijder won his first cap for the Netherlands four months after making his top-flight debut for Ajax in December 2002; leapt to prominence with a man-of-the-match performance in the UEFA EURO 2004 play-off triumph against Scotland, scoring once and setting up three other goals in a 6-0 win in Amsterdam.He won one Eredivisie (2004) and two Dutch Cups (2006, 2007) with Ajax before joining Real Madrid CF for €27m in August 2007; scored the winner on his Liga debut, against Club Atlético de Madrid, and also finished the season strongly as the Merengues won the league.

Sneijder featured at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and was man of the match in the Oranje’s opening two games of UEFA EURO 2008 against Italy (3-0) and France (4-1), scoring in both; selected for UEFA’s Team of the Tournament.He left Madrid for FC Internazionale Milano in August 2009, taking the No10 shirt and rapidly endearing himself to the Nerazzurri fans; scored twice in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League en route to a final victory against FC Bayern München in his former home stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu.

He also won Serie A and the Coppa Italia, which was retained in 2011, in his first season in Italy; signed a two-year contract extension in October 2010, keeping him at San Siro until 2015.Sneijder was one of three players − along with David Villa and Thomas Müller − who scored a tournament-best five goals at the 2010 World Cup, but lost out on the top scorers’ prize to the latter by virtue of assists and number of minutes played; also finished second, behind Diego Forlán, in the Golden Ball poll for the tournament’s best player.

Sneijder faced the Danes on his birthday but lost that day.He was one of Oranje’s best players that afternoon.

LUCKY CHARM |  Ibrahim Afellay

It went well after such a long time out, but when you have played football as long as I have you don’t lose the feeling“-Ibrahim Afellay

Despite being injured for most of the 2011–12 season, he was included in the Netherlands’ Euro 2012 squad. On 2 June 2012 Afellay scored two goals in a 6–0 friendly win over Northern Ireland, which was the Netherlands’ final match ahead of the tournament.

Recruited by FC Barcelona in January 2011 after several seasons of steadily increasing stature and maturity with PSV Eindhoven, Ibrahim Afellay is a creative, pacy wide midfielder whose participation at UEFA EURO 2012 was placed in jeopardy when he sustained cruciate ligament damage to his left knee in September 2011.

Born in Utrecht of Moroccan descent, Afellay joined PSV in 1996 having been scouted while playing for amateur outfit USV Elinkwijk.He developed gradually at PSV, scoring his first two Eredivisie goals in 4-2 defeat of Feyenoord in the final home game of 2004/05, and was ever-present in the UEFA Champions League the following campaign.

He was heavily involved as PSV won four successive Dutch titles from 2004/05 to 2007/08, he was voted Talent of the Year in the Netherlands in 2006/07 after scoring six times in 27 league appearances; eclipsed that total two seasons later with a career-best 13 top-flight goals.

Eligible to play for Morocco but chose the Netherlands instead, making his debut in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier away to Slovenia; made three appearances at the final tournament and the same number at the 2010 FIFA World Cup as the Oranje finished runners-up to Spain.Afellay played all but seven minutes of the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League group stage as PSV finished top of their section – joined Barcelona for a reported €3m a few weeks later and ended the season with a cameo in the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United FC.

He was ruled out for almost seven months in autumn 2011 when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in training but proved his fitness in Barcelona’s remaining Liga games.Despite Afellay’s lack of first-team action this season, the Holland manager, Bert van Marwijk, never lost confidence in one of his most promising players. He is a player who, at 26, the coach may need as a leader in future major tournaments.

For Van Marwijk, Afellay is a versatile player with a terrific shot from outside the area, who can be deployed on either flank. And he is committed to the cause.

In Holland, many were doubtful about what he could achieve at Barcelona, but Afellay had faith in himself. Training with guys like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta makes you better.

VAN PERSIE FACES A KLAAS ACT  | Who should Van Marwijk pick?Van Persie or Huntelaar?

I played against [FC Schalke 04’s] Klaas-Jan Huntelaar this season and did well, but not so well against [Arsenal FC’s] Robin van Persie, who scored three goals in two matches against us.”-Mats Hummels (Germany and Borussia Dortmund)

The Dutch have always had contemporary world class strikers.The likes of Van Nistelrooy,Kluivert,Van Hooijdonk,Makaay and Hasselbaink were all top scorers in their various leagues.

Dutch coaches have always had headaches when it came to their team selections.Former Holland coach Dick Advocaat (now at Russia) always experimented his star-studded striking force.In 2003,he experimented with a Makaay-Kluivert upfront against Luis Figo’s Portugal which ended 1-1.The coach had to assure Van Nistelrooy of a starting spot at EURO 2004 before he would play.

As one of the world’s most lethal centre forwards, Klaas Jan Huntelaar always takes a straight line toward goal. Despite being given the centre forward’s trademark No. 9 shirt, and being the top scorer of the qualifying tournament with 12 goals, it was not enough for Huntelaar. He was the top scorer in the Bundesliga, but Van Persie matched that in the English Premier League.

Van Persie harks back to the smoothness and fluidity of Dennis Bergkamp and Johan Cruyff. At his best, as he did for Arsenal this year, he can turn a game with a moment of brilliance as much as beauty. With 30 goals, he beat Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney for the top-scoring title. He was also named player of the season by his peers in the Premier League.

For the Dutch, though, Van Persie has yet to excel like the true Dutch greats at a major tournament and he is starting his fourth now. Even when Oranje reached the final in South Africa two years ago, there was criticism of his performance.Instead, Huntelaar has not really had the chance yet to prove himself.

While Van Persie personifies beauty on the pitch, Huntelaar counts by goals only.He knocked himself out cold against England early this year while heading in a spectacular goal at Wembley. Teammates had to pluck grass out of his open mouth.

In the past, Van Marwijk has leaned toward Van Persie, hoping that beyond his instinct for goals, he will add that dash of creative brilliance. But with 29 goals in the Bundesliga, Huntelaar also feels his time has come.

In the loss to the Danes Van Marwijk left Schalke 04 forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the continent’s top scorer in qualifying with 12 goals in eight games, on the bench until 19 minutes from time but he could now start the prolific striker.If he does, Ibrahim Affelay would likely be dropped to allow Robin Van Persie to move to the left flank.

Regardless of the formation, the Dutch can ill afford a repeat of the poor finishing they produced against the Danes with Van Persie and Arjen Robben guilty of some bad decision-making and poor execution.


VAN THE MAN  | Robin van Persie

Thierry told me things about the big matches you face as a player”.-Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie (28) started his senior club career as a left winger and possessed exceptional dribbling skills and was also a talented striker of the ball. He was bought by Arsenal as a long term replacement for Dennis Bergkamp. Manager Arsène Wenger planned to convert Van Persie from a left winger to a centre forward as he had successfully done with star player Thierry Henry. Van Persie hit six goals in qualifying, only for Huntelaar to score 12.Van Persie has scored 28 goals in 66 games for the Dutch.The Van Man has never quite lived up to his true potential at a major tournament, yet insists he is stronger mentally now.He finished as the 30-goal top scorer in the 2011/12 Premier League season, scoring hat-tricks against Chelsea FC and Blackburn, and was voted player of the year by the Football Writers’ Association.

Robin van Persie returned from injury to score a plethora of goals for Arsenal FC in 2011 and re-assert himself as one of the most gifted, elegant and productive strikers in the game. He has yet to stamp his class on a major tournament but will undoubtedly be one of the leading attractions at UEFA EURO 2012.As a teenager he won the UEFA Cup in his first full season at home-town club Feyenoord, producing a fine display in the final at De Kuip against Borussia Dortmund.

He won the FA Cup in his first campaign at Arsenal, 2004/05, scoring twice in the semi-finals against Blackburn Rovers FC; reached the UEFA Champions League final the following season but had to settle for a place on the bench against FC Barcelona in Paris.

An impressive FIFA World Cup in Germany followed, as he started all four matches and scored a spectacular free-kick against Ivory Coast.He was a key man for the Oranje at the start of EURO 2008 qualifying with four goals in three matches and returned from injury to score twice at the finals – against France and Romania.

His 2009/10 season was wrecked by ankle ligament damage, sustained in a November friendly versus Italy; scored once, against Cameroon, in seven matches at the FIFA World Cup finals as the Netherlands finished runners-up to Spain.

Van Persie clearly enjoyed operating between two wingers at Arsenal and this may be replicated with Afellay and Robben, although do not underestimate the impact Alex Song had at Arsenal. The Cameroonian had a real knack of being able to pick out Van Persie’s runs.


THE HUNTER  |Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

”Robin [van Persie] is a natural number 10. He plays mutch deeper than I do and as a result we could quite well play together.At the moment I am disappointed that the coach has decided not to play me.But I am not a player who runs away from a challenge. It is my ambition to play.”-Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.


Huntelaar (28) is a prolific strikerwith brilliant technique and athleticismand has been compared in style to players such as Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy.Former Netherlands, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager Louis van Gaal has been quoted saying about the player “in the penalty area, he is the best player in the world, bar none.”

A lethal finisher with both feet, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the top scorer in EURO 2012 qualifying with 12 goals in eight appearances. Underused at EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he is in prime form after a prolific 2011/12 campaign in the Bundesliga with FC Schalke 04.

After an inconspicuous start to his career at PSV Eindhoven and De Graafschap, Huntelaar came into his own when scoring 26 goals in 35 games on loan at AGOVV Apeldoorn in the Eerste Divisie.He joined sc Heerenveen in 2004, registering 17 Eredivisie goals in his first season plus three in the UEFA Cup.

Seventeen goals in the first half of 2005/06 earned him a move to AFC Ajax, where he carried on in the same prolific vein, scoring 16 in as many games en route to the Eredivisie top scorers’ crown and also hitting both goals in the Dutch Cup final (2-1 v PSV).He retained the trophy with Ajax in 2007 (scoring again in the final, against AZ Alkmaar) and regained the Eredivisie top scorers’ prize in 2007/08 – again with 33 goals.

Touted for a 2006 FIFA World Cup call-up, he instead played at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, where he struck four goals, including two in the final against Ukraine, as the Jong Oranje won the trophy for the first time.The Hunter was top scorer and Golden Player at the tournament and became the Netherlands’ all-time record scorer at U21 level with 18 goals in 22 games.

He made a remarkable senior debut for the Netherlands in August 2006, scoring twice in a 4-0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland.He was also on target on his major tournament debut at EURO 2008, scoring on his only appearance, against Romania.He has scored 31 times for the Dutch

He left Ajax for Real Madrid CF in January 2009 − as a replacement for injured compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy − but moved to AC Milan after just half a season; struck seven Serie A goals but restricted playing time led to him moving on again in the summer of 2010.

He helped the Netherlands finish runners-up at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, scoring the winner against Cameroon in the group stage, and was in blistering form throughout EURO 2012 qualifying.

He signed for Schalke in August 2010 for €14m and though he only posted eight Bundesliga goals in his first season in Germany due to injury, he topped the scorers’ charts with 29 in 2011/12 (in addition to ten goals in the UEFA Europa League).

This article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)
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