As the international football competition nears its end, here are my top moments of the tournament.
|Van Bronckhorst has a final chance for World Cup glory as Dutch captain [GALLO/GETTY]|
Giovanni van Bronckhorst is hoping for a fairytale ending to his playing career when he leads Netherlands out in Sunday’s World Cup final with Spain.
The 35-year-old left back will come up against several friends in the Spanish side after having his best spell during the period he spent with Barcelona from 2003 to 2007.
Captain ‘Gio’ has scored six goals in 105 internationals, although his first and last are the most memorable.
He opened the scoring in the semi-final against Uruguay with a superb 35-metre drive, arguably the goal of the tournament.
His first strike for his country came at the venue of Sunday’s final, known in those days as the First National Bank Stadium.
On June 4 1997 in his fifth international, a friendly with South Africa, Van Bronckhorst scored after eight minutes.
“That goal was exactly like the goal I scored against Uruguay but more memorable about that match was the meeting with Nelson Mandela,” he said on Saturday.
Van Bronckhorst, a product of Feyenoord’s youth system, started his professional career in 1993 and moved abroad five years later having spells at Glasgow Rangers and then Arsenal before winning the European Champions League with Barcelona in 2006.
Real number one
His opposing captain on Sunday, Iker Casillas, is still trying to keep Barca’s dominance at bay in Spain after years as Real Madrid’s first choice keeper.
Cassilas does not approve of his nickname “Saint Iker” although his often miraculous saves for club and country have earned him
the adoration of fans and teammates alike.
The 29-year-old Spain captain has already played 110 times for his country, just 16 short of the all-time record held by fellow keeper Andoni Zubizarreta, leading the team to glory at Euro 2008 and to the brink of a first World Cup triumph.
Previously seen as underachievers in major tournaments, the Spanish had to wait 44 years to break their trophyless run by beating Germany 1-0 to claim their second European title in Vienna in 2008.
In the quarter-finals against world champions Italy that year, Casillas was credited with engineering what has come to be viewed as a turning point in the nation’s footballing fortunes.
When the match went to penalties after a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes, many back at home feared another bitter disappointment against a long-standing foe.
But Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale and the riotous celebrations were on a par with what can be expected on Sunday if Spain beat Netherlands at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.
“I believe I have had good fortune in the football world,” Casillas said this week, adding that he had learned a great deal from former Spain captains Fernando Hierro, now sporting director, and Raul, also Real Madrid men.
“I have absorbed the best of each of them and now it’s my turn as I am the veteran,” he added. “I try to transmit (to the younger players) what I have learned.”