Even casual soccer fans are likely to remember Arjen Robben from the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. After more than an hour of deadlock, the bald, gangly, yet surprisingly graceful Robben burst through on goal with only Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas to beat.
Robben let loose a shot and Casillas dove in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for Robben, and for Holland, the keeper still managed to block it with his trailing foot. Spain went on to win the final, leaving three-time runners up, Holland as the sole remaining nation in the “best team never to win a World Cup” category.
Months later, Robben remarked, “That missed chance has become a film in my head, one that I keep playing over and over again.”
Thankfully Robben was able to channel his angst into his game, becoming a serial winner with German Bundesliga side, Bayern Munich.
Robben’s speed on the wings, dribbling prowess and seemingly unstoppable knack for cutting inside and firing off left-footed shots to the far corner have helped spawn a new era of domestic and European dominance for Bayern. During Robben’s tenure at the club, Bayern has won 10 major trophies, including three Bundesliga titles, one UEFA Champions League, and half a dozen various domestic German cups.
Although he will be one of the key men Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal will look to in Brazil, Robben is not a typical Dutch player. Born in Bedum, a grey northern village, Robben is a maverick in Dutch football terms. He doesn’t possess the heading or geometric passing ability one associates with Dutch players. Nor does he fold well into the Dutch system that so prizes the collective.
Robben is an individualist who often simply does as he pleases. When it works, like when he scored the winning goal in the 2013 Champions League final, it’s brilliant. When it doesn’t, one gets the feeling his teammates want to strangle him.
Now aged 30, Robben is likely heading into his final World Cup. While the Netherlands team competing in Brazil this summer isn't as strong as the one that came in second in South Africa, Robben still at least has a shot at some personal redemption, when Holland open their tournament with a rematch of the 2010 final against Spain.
If the fleet-footed winger from north Holland is played in on goal and again comes face-to-face with Casillas, perhaps this time he’ll be able to get things right and banish any remaining ghosts still haunting him from four years ago.