Arjen Robben - so near and yet so far
Although one of the most talented players of his generation, Arjen Robben is in danger of being remembered for a career of near-misses.
Stalking moodily back to the dug-out after being substituted in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Germany in Kharkiv, Robben may have had cause to wonder whether yet another shot at glory was about to pass him by.
Defeat left Bert van Marwijk’s side in need of a two-goal victory over Portugal on Sunday — as well as a favour from the Germans against Denmark — if this gifted group of players is to avoid the ignominy of a first-round exit.
At 28, Robben is too young to suppose that Euro 2012 will be his last major tournament, but his inability to leave a mark in the colours of his country threatens to bring a premature curtailment to his international career.
For all his trophies, it is questionable whether Robben will ever come to terms with the trauma of July 11, 2010.
Having been named in the Holland team to face Spain in the World Cup final in Johannesburg, in the 60th minute — and with the score goalless — he was sent clear on goal by Wesley Sneijder.
Millions held their breath as Robben bore down on Iker Casillas at Soccer City but the winger lost his duel with his former Real Madrid team-mate, who deflected his shot wide.
An hour later, Spain were the world champions, and although Holland’s exploits promised much for the future, their opening two defeats at Euro 2012 suggest this team’s peak arrived two years ago.
Sadly for Robben, miscalculations at key moments in vital games have become a recurring theme.
In April, he squandered a late opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot for Bayern Munich in a match at Borussia Dortmund that was effectively a decider for the Bundesliga title.
Dortmund defender Neven Subotic rubbed salt in the wound by jubilantly celebrating in the Dutchman’s face, and more woe was to follow moments later when he spooned a chance over the bar from close range.
Defeat left Dortmund with a six-point lead they would not relinquish and Bayern missed the opportunity to claim revenge when they were thrashed 5-2 in the German Cup final.
Bayern’s season therefore came down to the Champions League final with Chelsea but once again Robben fluffed his lines, enabling his old team-mate Petr Cech to save an extra-time penalty that would have given Bayern the lead.
It marked a miserable end to a campaign that had promised much for the former PSV Eindhoven winger, who claimed nine goals and four assists during a thrilling seven-game burst of form in March.
Criticism, though, has become a constant companion.
Robben was branded “selfish” by Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer earlier this year and has complained that he does not enjoy the full support of coach Jupp Heynckes.
It appears to have left him assailed by self-doubt, as demonstrated by the explanation for his reluctance to shoot in Holland’s 1-0 loss to Denmark in their Euro 2012 opener.
“For the first (chance), instead of shooting myself, I tried to find a team-mate. I should have taken the chance on my own,” he said.
“But people in the Netherlands say I’m a selfish player so much that it must have had a subconscious impact in my head.” His petulant reaction to being substituted against Germany — hopping over the advertising boards on the far side of the pitch before angrily pacing back to the dug-out — will not improve a public image that has already been tarnished by accusations of diving and indulgent play.
His trophy cabinet, meanwhile, remains bereft of non-domestic honours.
Robben has won titles and acclaim at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern, but in the games for the most glittering prizes, he has been left with nothing but regrets. Sunday’s game with Portugal threatens to deliver even more.