Soccer-World-Robben aims for redemption in Brazil after 2010 final miss


By Philip O'Connor

June 5 (Reuters) - Four years on from a World Cup final defeat to Spain, Netherlands winger Arjen Robben travels to Brazil at the height of his powers, having dealt with some of the demons that plagued him earlier in his career.

Previously synonymous with injuries that ranged from hamstring strains to a testicular cancer scare, selfishness and wasteful finishing, the 30-year-old has developed from being a raw, precocious talent into one of the key players in a dominant Bayern Munich side.

"The season was a good one," Robben told German television of his role in helping Bayern wrap up the Bundesliga title in record time.

"I stayed fit all year, and when I'm fit, I give it my all."

That may have been enough for success in the Bundesliga, but Robben - and Bayern - came up short in the Champions League, where they were hammered 5-0 on aggregate in their semi-final by eventual winners Real Madrid.

Robben's move to Bayern in 2009 has 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, Robben 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 as more often than not the ball flew high over the crossbar or wide of the far post.

But the move to Bayern and the appointment of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in 2013, has seen him improve immensely and with a fit Robben pulling the strings, Bayern's dominance over the last year 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.


Robben, who has played 73 times for his country and scored 22 goals, however has had a chequered World Cup experience.

He netted on his World Cup finals debut in Germany in 2006 against Serbia and Montenegro, but the Dutch crashed out to Portugal in the last 16, losing 1-0.

And in what seems like a microcosm of his career, he arrived at the 2010 finals in South Africa injured.

He played only 17 minutes in the group stage before putting in several brilliant performances in the knockout rounds.

His powerful, direct running and dribbling were among the few positive points in a dour Dutch side that paid little homage to the free-flowing "Total Football" embraced by previous Netherlands teams.

Robben said after the tournament he was haunted by his failure to convert a one-on-one chance in the final against Spain, which the Dutch lost 1-0 following a dramatic extra-time goal by Andres Iniesta.

Though there has been little sign recently of his previous physical fragility, there is always the danger that Robben can suffer an injury as his explosive style of running makes him prone to muscle pulls and tears.

With influential Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman out with a torn cruciate ligament and Manchester United's Robin van Persie struggling with a knee problem, an injury to Robben is something coach Louis van Gaal can ill afford.

For his part Robben, who has called for Galatasaray's Wesley Sneijder to be included in the squad, will have to step up and take even more responsibility if the Dutch are to win in Brazil.

As the past season at Bayern has shown, it is something he is currently more than capable of. (Editing by Greg Stutchbury, Mike Collett and Martyn Herman)

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