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Wesley leads Holland’s march

sports Updated: Jul 06, 2010 02:09 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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With a looping shot and a pass threaded through the inside-left channel, Wesley Sneijder announced he was in South Africa. Exactly three weeks and a day after that opener against Denmark at Soccer City, Sneijder goes into his first World Cup semi-final carrying the hopes of Holland. See more

Neither of the opening statements directly led to a goal. The shot was deflected into the horizontal by Dane goalie Thomas Sorensen and the pass had Eljiro Elia hitting the upright before Dirk Kuyt followed up to score on the rebound.

Sneijder has since won three Man-of-the-Match awards and scored four goals after FIFA’s Technical Study Group awarded him the first against Brazil too.

“I am delighted it went in,” the midfielder simply said of his first goal of the finals. That was the matchwinner and the only goal in the Holland-Japan tie.

So far only Spain’s David Villa is ahead with five goals. And unlike Villa, Sneijder isn’t a forward. But in the way he was at the right place to receive Robin van Persie’s effort on the rebound against Japan, in being the smallest man inside the Brazil penalty area and still managing to make an impact, Sneijder would have made any striker proud.

“It just slipped through from my bald head and it was a great feeling,” Sneijer said after the header that fetched the second goal against Brazil.

And it was Sneijder again whose calm placement complemented Arjen Robben’s strike ensuring a quarter-final berth for Holland with an unprecedented four straight wins.

Staring at elimination trailing 0-1 against Brazil at half-time, Sneijder said the team pledged to give everything it had. “We fought for each other and were rewarded,” Sneijder said. It was a comeback that, coach Bert van Marwijk said, showed how strong the team was mentally. And Sneijder played an important part in that.

Playing behind the frontliners, Sneijder, 26, is the brain behind Holland’s forward movements and often, their man for set-pieces.

He typifies the intelligent Dutch footballer and wouldn’t have been a misfit in teams that thrilled with Total Football. Fittingly too, he is a product of Ajax where he debuted at age 18.

Sneijder combines pragmatism with panache, flair with function that made him a key player in Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, which won the Champions League in May. Early in the World Cup, Sneijder said the standard of the Champions League was better. Wonder what he will say now. Wonder what those who off-loaded him from Real Madrid will say now?

At 1.70m, he is usually one of the smallest players on view but in five matches so far, Sneijder has left the field walking tall. He will want to end the World Cup with a magnificent seven.