JOHANNESBURG - Giovanni van Bronckhorst
is hoping for a fairytale ending to his playing career when he
leads Netherlands out in Sunday's World Cup final with Spain.
The 35-year-old left-back will come up against several
friends in the Spanish side after having his best spell during
the period he spent with Barcelona from 2003 to 2007.
Captain 'Gio' has scored six goals in 105 internationals,
although his first and last are the most memorable.
He opened the scoring in the semi-final against Uruguay with
a superb 35-metre drive, arguably the goal of the tournament.
His first strike for his country came at the venue of Sunday's
final, known in those days as the First National Bank Stadium.
On June 4 1997 in his fifth international, a friendly with
South Africa, Van Bronckhorst scored after eight minutes.
"That goal was exactly like the goal I scored against
Uruguay but more memorable about that match was the meeting with
Nelson Mandela," he told reporters.
Van Bronckhorst, a product of Feyenoord's youth system,
started his professional career in 1993 and moved abroad five
years later having spells at Rangers and then Arsenal.
Schooled as an attacking left-sided midfielder, he played
left-back for the first time at Arsenal but after Frank Rijkaard
signed him for Barcelona he developed into a wing-back.
Together with Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, he embroidered
the left flank in the Barca side that won the 2006 Champions
League with victory over his former team Arsenal.
Van Bronckhorst was the only Barcelona player to feature in
all 13 Champions League matches during that campaign.
A year later Bert van Marwijk, starting his second spell at
Feyenoord, persuaded him to return to Rotterdam and in the final
match that season, just before the coach left to take over the
national team, Van Bronckhorst lifted the Dutch cup.
Van Bronckhorst's international debut was against Brazil in
1996 and he was a member of the 1998 World Cup squad although he
did not play at the finals under coach Guus Hiddink.
He has since featured in every tournament the Dutch have
qualified for and was praised for his form at Euro 2008 where he
scored the third goal against Italy after setting up the second
by clearing off the line before breaking down the left flank.
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