RIO DE JANERIO — As Arjen Robben took a couple laps around the the Netherlands' practice field at the Flamengo training center in the neighborhood of Leblon, he stopped to wave to a group of family members sitting in the stands and then again to some Dutch fans trying to get a look at him through a mostly covered chain link fence.
The Dutch star striker didn’t practice on Tuesday, but was in high spirits as he prepared in his own way for Sunday’s knockout round game against Mexico.
And why shouldn’t he be in high spirits?
Robben is among the leading goalscorers in the World Cup and many believe he’s the best player in the tournament, including his own teammates.
“I think Arjen has done a great job so far,” forward Dirk Kuyt said after Tuesday’s training session. “At the moment, I wouldn’t change him with any other player in the tournament. We are very happy with him and he’s scored great goals, and yesterday, once again, gave a great assist to Memphis. Hopefully, he can continue this performance until the end.”
In his three 2014 World Cup matches, Robben has scored three goals and had one assist. More than 90 percent of his shots have been on target and he was named the Man of the Match in the 3-2 win against Australia and the 2-0 victory against Chile.
Even though he trails Brazil’s Neymar and is tied with France’s Karim Benzema for the most World Cup goals so far, many believe that Robben’s play has far surpassed both of those players and the play of teammate Robin van Persie, with whom he creates one of the world’s most dangerous attacks.
“Robben is fantastic,” said forward Memphis Depay, who was on the end of Robben’s lone assist against Chile. “He’s fantastic to train with every day. I can’t believe my eyes what he can do with the ball on the dribble. It’s unbelievable how fast he is with the ball. He’s a great player and I’m so happy to play with him.”
Robben’s strong play has almost exorcised the demons of the 2010 World Cup when he had two chances to put the Netherlands ahead during the final against Spain and missed both. Andres Iniesta ended up scoring in extra time to give Spain the Cup. The disappointment has followed Robben.
But Robben came into the World Cup playing some of his best soccer after scoring 21 goals in 45 matches for Bayern Munich and he’s been injury-free, which has helped his confidence.
Dutch supporters know that as Robben goes, the rest of the team tends to go, so seeing him play well has given fans some belief that the team can make it back to the final.
And Kuyt contends the team has already done enough in the group stage to show they’re a serious contender for the title.
“You win three game: Against Spain, the world champion; we beat Chile, one of the best teams so far in the tournament; we score 10 goals,” Kuyt said. “I don’t think we have to convince anybody.”
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