The World Cup final at Soccer City in Johannesburg will mark Wesley Sneijder’s last game of an amazing season. The Dutchman had arrived in South Africa off the back of a remarkable Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League treble. Now, the Real Madrid reject is hoping to add a World Cup winners’ medal to his collection to complete a perfect year. In fact, if Holland defeat Spain, then the Inter midfielder will become only the second player – after Pelè – to have won a domestic title, a national cup and the major club competition and World Cup on the bounce.
Pelè picked up a treble in 1962 with Santos, scoring a brace in a 3-0 win over Penarol to lift the Copa Libertadores. Then the Brazilian legend travelled with the Selecao side that won the 1962 World Cup in Chile. One dark cloud was that Pelè picked up an injury when attempting a long range drive in Brazil’s second game against Czechoslovakia and never recovered to reclaim a starting spot in the tournament. The World Cup wasn’t actually where the silverware ended though – Pelè went on to pick up the Intercontinental Cup soon afterwards.
Sneijder could too. The Dutchman could become the first European player to complete this ‘Grand Slam’, as in December he will head off to the United Arab Emirates with Inter to contest the FIFA Club World Cup. Sitting side by side with Pelè would be quite an achievement for someone forced out of the Bernebau last summer with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo.
In 1974, seven Germans, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, Hans-Josef Kapellmann, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Sepp Maier, themselves came close to joining Pelè’s exclusive club, as they picked up the European Cup with Bayern Munich and the World Cup with West Germany. However, this band of Germans lost their domestic cup final to Eintracht Frankfurt.
At this World Cup, Sneijder has been impressive, of that there is little doubt. The Inter man has turned it on in every game he has played and with his strike against Uruguay joined Holland’s all-time top scorers top ten. Sneijder has equalled his team-mate Robin van Persie and also Leen Vente – a striker who scored 19 goals in just 21 games between 1933 and 1940. The 26-year-old is now just five goals behind the legendary Marco van Basten and is the second highest scoring midfielder, behind only Kick Smit, who netted 26 times between the late 1930s and the 1950s.
In the two great international competitions, the World Cup and European Championship, Sneijder is as productive as Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Inter player has seven goals so far – five in the current World Cup and two at Euro 2008. Only three players can claim to have done better than Sneijder and Van Nistelrooy: Patrick Kluivert, Johnny Rep (both with eight goals) and Dennis Bergkamp (10 goals). The former Ajax man also seems to be Holland’s lucky charm. If he scores, the Dutch will not lose. So far, Sneijder has scored 19 goals in 18 games, and of those the Oranje won 17 and drew one.
It is no surprise therefore that Holland have marched on and that Wesley Sneijder is in contention for the Golden Boot. Capped 67 times so far, Sneijder has five goals to his name in South Africa, having scored the winner in the 1-0 win over Japan, struck again in the last 16 win over Slovakia, and then netting a brace in the quarter final against Brazil. Add another against Uruguay in the crucial semi-final, and Sneijder has every right to feel very pleased with his work in Africa. It seems that with every goal the midfield live-wire snatches, another Dutch record falls. Currently, the Utrecht-born star is equal with Rob Rensenbrink and Johan Neeskens as Holland’s top scorer at a World Cup: Neeskens bagged five in 1974, while Rensenbrink did the same four years later in Argentina.
The road back to a World Cup final has been a long one for Holland and while great hopes were placed on Sneijder when he made his international debut at the age of just 18, the midfielder soon knew the pain of disappointment: Sneijder featured in the 2006 World Cup and both the 2004 and 2008 European Championships. Now, he has helped his team back to where they feel they belong and if he can succeed where Dutch icons like Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp failed, they might write a history book just for Sneijder all on his own. From a land of so many legends it’s not easy to stand out, but Wesley Sneijder is doing just that.
Fonte: Inside Futbol