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Soccer-Game-changer Robben does it again for the Dutch

Reuters

(repeats adding byline)

By Elzio Barreto

FORTALEZA, Brazil, June 29 (Reuters) - He may not have been on the scoresheet, but once again it was Arjen Robben who won the match for the Netherlands on Sunday with the tricky footwork that has brought so many goals and so much controversy over the years.

With the score at 1-1 and extra time looming against Mexico in the World Cup last-16 clash, the experienced forward dribbled the ball into the penalty area and drew a tackle from Mexico captain Rafael Marquez that was controversially deemed a foul.

The Netherlands scored the resulting penalty, cementing Robben's terrific tournament so far for Dutch fans but sparking outrage from Mexico's team and supporters who saw a dive.

"He cheated, it's sickening," said one Mexican fan amid a storm of reaction on Twitter. "The type of embellishment employed by Robben is exactly what drives Americans crazy," added a sympathetic U.S. football-lover.

Some incensed Mexicans called for retrospective punishment for Robben, in the same vein as a ban on Uruguay's Luis Suarez for biting. But his admirers said Robben had simply shown - with his pace, drive and knack of turning games - just why he is one of the greatest players in the world.

If Robben's arm-flailing fall was melodramatic, then so was Marquez's lunge ill-judged given just who was in front of him.

Followers of the balding 30-year-old's glittering career know that one way or another, with injection of pace, a mesmerising trick, or a theatrical tumble, time and time again for club and country he is the man who decides games.

SCINTILLATING STYLE

Robben began this World Cup in scintillating style with two goals against reigning champions Spain in a 5-1 drubbing that shook the supposed footballing order of Europe.

He also scored against Australia, putting him on three goals so far and no doubt aspiring to overtake current top scorer James Rodriguez of Colombia as the tournament progresses.

Saturday's quarter-final against Costa Rica or Greece is another great chance for Robben to shine.

It has all been the perfect way for him to banish the haunting memory of the final four years ago, when he missed a one-on-one chance against Spanish keeper Iker Casillas that could well have given the Dutch their first ever World Cup.

The image of a disbelieving Robben, hands on head, remains one of the lingering memories of the 2010 World Cup.

He arrived in Brazil, however, at the height of his powers, with a string of injuries behind him and a confidence-boosting season as a key member of a great Bayern Munich side.

Robben's move to Germany in 2009 helped dispel much of the criticism that dogged his early career in England and Spain.

Despite winning league titles with both Chelsea and Real Madrid, he had never really lived up to his billing as one of the most exciting attacking players in the world.

His characteristic ploy of cutting in from the right to fire a powerful shot off his left foot often ended in derision from fans when the ball flew over or wide.

But the move to Bayern and the appointment of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in 2013 have seen him improve immensely and with a fit Robben pulling the strings, Bayern's dominance has not been limited to the domestic scene.

Having missed a penalty in the 2012 Champions League final against Chelsea, Robben redeemed himself in 2013, scoring a last-gasp winner against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley to claim Europe's most prestigious club prize.

Now Robben is gunning for the ultimate world prize, one that has eluded his nation to earn the Dutch an unwanted reputation as the best team never to win a World Cup.

For Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, however, Robben's tournament should be all but ended.

"If the referee was fair, their second goal wouldn't exist," a furious Herrera said, accusing Robben of diving three times.

"Because Arjen Robben would have been sent off for a second yellow card. But if you don't book him after the first one, then the player knows he can get away with it." (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Additional reporting by Philip O'Connor and Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)

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