Wesley Sneijder may be the one reaping the praise for his attacking play, but to many afficionados eyes it is Rafael van der Vaart who has been the lynchpin in the Dutch success so far at Euro 2008.
The 25-year-old SV Hamburg playmaker – known as the 'Little Prince of the Arena' when he was at Ajax – has spent more time on the ball and along with Dirk Kuyt covered more ground than any of their team-mates and on Saturday the same will be expected of him as the Dutch take on Russia in the last eight.
'Rafi' as he is also known reflected his selfless running and lungbusting energetic performances by admitting that after the 3-0 defeat of world champions Italy in their opening match that he had never felt 'as exhausted'.
However, he is delighted to give his all for the 'Oranje'.
“It gives me pleasure to give my all for this team,” he admitted.
“When one sees what we are achieving at the moment, it really makes it worthwhile to sufffer a little.”
Dutch coach Marco van Basten summed up his importance to the team.
“What Rafael brings to our style of play is indispensable,” said van Basten, who is seeking to add the European title as a coach to the one he landed as a player in 1988.
However, for the Russian match van der Vaart – who has to score in the tournament – may well have to change position as van Basten seeks to accommodate Arjen Robben in his favoured left wing position.
It will mean van der Vaart having to move from just behind Ruud van Nistelrooy into a more central position alongside Sneijder, but in a seemingly new Dutch spirit in contrast to those of previous finals teams, he is more than prepared to make such a sacrifice.
“It is not a problem, as I also want to show to the sceptics that I can play alongside Sneijder and that we in fact complement each other,” said the left-footed dynamo.
For a player of his talent it seems surprising that he, unlike several of his team-mates, is not playing for a major European club, with all due respect to Hamburg, but he has made no secret of his desire to leave with Spanish Cup winners Valencia having been long-time suitors.
However, the Spanish side experienced a desperate time in the league last season and cannot offer Champions League football to him and risk fierce competition from several other clubs such as Juventus, Chelsea or Manchester United. Judging by Arsene Wenger's appraisal of him don't be surprised if Arsenal make a late bid for his services.
“Van der Vaart has a rare intelligence. He is a tactical genius. He is a player that rarely loses the ball and uses it more often than not in an excellent fashion,” purred Wenger.
Van der Vaart will be hoping that such qualities will indeed see 'the onetime 'Little Prince' be crowned a European king come June 29.
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