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International Soccer
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Why the Netherlands must win now
Arjen Robben knows all too well that failure is not something that is quickly forgotten.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Netherlands winger Arjen Robben knows how it feels to come close.

As a member of Bayern Munich in 2010, Robben lost to Inter Milan in the Champions League final and went on to reach the World Cup final with the Dutch, only to come up short against Spain.

And this season has been more of the same for the 28-year-old, who was a member of the Bayern side that finished second in the Bundesliga to Borussia Dortmund, lost in the final of the German Cup to Dortmund and was denied by Chelsea in the Champions League final on penalty kicks in heartbreaking fashion.

Robben not only missed a big penalty kick in a key league match against Dortmund late in the season, but he failed to beat Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech from the spot in extra time in the Champions League, which very well could have won the game for the German side.

Despite being regarded as one of the game's top players, it is the disappointments that stick with Robben the most.

"That remains in your head for the rest of your career," Robben said of his failures. "I still have a few years as a footballer, but when you look back at a long career, those are the moments you remember."

Fortunately for Robben, he has a great chance to vanquish some of those ghosts with the Netherlands this summer at Euro 2012.

The Dutch looked like the best team on the planet at Euro 2008, outscoring its opponents by a combined score of 9-1 in the group stage. They then had a disappointing exit at the hands of Russia in the quarterfinals.

At the 2010 World Cup, the Netherlands proved it belonged among the world's elite by dispatching Brazil and Uruguay on its way to the final, which ended with a goal from Spain's Andres Iniesta in extra time for a 1-0 defeat.

And while many of the same players return to make another run at a major title, there is no doubt this current group is running out of chances.

The 1988 European Championship remains the only major title the Dutch have ever won, while the country's famed "Total Football" teams of the 1970s will forever be remembered for playing a style that was easy on the eyes but short on silverware.

Those teams reached back-to-back World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978, only to lose both, which is a fate that this Oranje side is hoping to avoid.

On paper, Bert van Marwijk's team is one of the most talented in the tournament, and has to be considered among the favorites along with Spain and Germany.

Despite being placed in a tough group with Germany, Portugal and Denmark, expect the Dutch to make another deep tournament run, and one that carries with it a sense of urgency.

The club is blessed with a handful of gifted, attacking players, in strikers Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, while midfielders like Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt give the team world-class playmaking ability.

But each is at least 28 years old, with Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder in particular having each battled extensive injury problems in recent seasons, which could ultimately shave a few years off their brilliant careers.

The Dutch back line has been the biggest area of concern ahead of Euro 2012, and although players like Khalid Boulahrouz, Wilfred Bouma and Joris Mathijsen are solid veterans, each is over 30, meaning that a new group of defenders must emerge in the coming years for the team to maintain its lofty status.

Not only does this appear to be a Dutch team at the peak of its powers, but it also could be an opportune time to catch a team like Spain, which has been the best in the world over the past four years.

Spain will be without leading scorer David Villa and veteran defender Carles Puyol because of injury, and you have to think that just the sheer number of matches over the past few years for the Spanish players will catch up with them at some point.

Germany is really the only other team that appears to be on the same level with Spain and the Netherlands, and the Oranje will get an early glimpse of them in the group stage before possibly meeting up with the Germans further down the road.

In two years' time at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, many of the core players on this Dutch team will be on the wrong side of 30, not to mention the fact that it will be very difficult to win the competition in South America.

There have been six World Cups to be staged in South America or Mexico, and each time the tournament was won by a South American side.

Robben is still considered to be among the world's best players, but lately he has come to be defined more by his failures than his considerable talent.

Likewise, the Netherlands is viewed as one of the world's best teams, but one that usually finds a way to come up short.

At Euro 2012, both will have a chance to forever change those opinions.

As Robben knows all too well, failure is not something that is quickly forgotten.

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