As much as anyone with no ties to Holland, I have always been a fan of Dutch soccer. I've watched highlights of Johan Cruyff's "Total Football" teams of the '70s, and enjoyed the stylish play of the '80s and '90s squads, first with Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, and then with Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert. A throwback Ajax jersey I owned in college probably contributed to the lack of women I dated at the time, but it was the shirt of choice for my passport photo. In 2006 my brother and I partied with the Orange Army in Stuttgart. As a Liverpool fan, I of course love the hard working, playmaking abilities of Dirk Kuyt, and during this tournament I've been awed by the talents of Wesley Sniejder. So despite not a single Dutch ancestor that I'm aware of hanging off my family tree, I'm thrilled to see them in the Final. That's why I must add the following: Arjen Robben, you're killing this for me.
Soccer haters usually bring up one of two arguments. Not enough scoring or they can't stand the flopping and diving. I won't listen to the first point unless that person's favorite sport is bowling. As for the second, while no soccer fan enjoys the theatrics, I typically counter with a list of countries who don't engage in such tactics. And in the past, Holland has been on the list. Not anymore after Arjen Robben has emerged as the premier flop artist at the 2010 World Cup.
What's a shame is that Robben is a tremendously skilled player who doesn't need to turn to the dark side. His magnificent strike in this spring's Champions League against Manchester United helped propel Bayern Munich to the Final, and his opening goal against Slovakia showed his remarkable ability to cut to the inside and let fire from long range. But on the flip side, we have seen a player who is eager to take minimal contact and act like he's been cut down by a sniper. His hysterics against Brazil lead to the free kick that set up the first of Holland's two goals. Today he was rightfully criticized by the ESPN broadcast duo of Ian Darke and John Harkes for exaggerating an injury after a slight collision. His antics are an unfortunate exception on an otherwise exceptional Dutch team. Heading into today's game, his coach claimed he "doesn't do it on purpose," a statement that's tough to validate.
Robben's skills will be on display for a global audience in Sunday's showpiece final. (FYI, I love using the phrase "showpiece final.") I'll be breaking out my contraband Dutch overalls for the occasion. If I'm bringing my Dutch best, I hope Arjen Robben can do the same.