Three unusual sounds rang across the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador during the dregs of extra-time in the Holland-Costa Rica quarterfinal. First was the clatter of Wesley Sneijder’s shot against the crossbar.
The Holland number 10 hardly ever misses. But last Saturday, the upright had held him back on three separate occasions. Then came a loud sigh, pushed out from the depths of Sneijder’s lungs.
And finally, a collective gasp from the Dutch supporters seated behind that stubborn goalpost, as Sneijder buried his face in the embracing arms of current captain and once mortal enemy, Robin van Persie.
Four years in football is a long time. But in Sneijder’s case, it will seem more like an eternity.
Four years back in South Africa, there stood a greater chance of that inanimate goalpost expanding an inch or two to swallow yet another Sneijder goal than van Persie ever lending him his shoulder to cry on.
But back then, the ‘always-smiling-always-arrogant Smurf’ (that’s what van Persie called a short and smug Sneijder in public) hardly ever cried. And why would he?
Four years ago to the day, his five World Cup goals had put Holland in the final and him on the cusp of becoming the only player in history to win every single major in the same year (he had already led Inter Milan to the treble — Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia).
And to add to all that brilliance, Sneijder was dating actress Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, then five-time winner of the title ‘sexiest Dutchwoman alive’
Yes, there was the small and public matter of settling a dispute with van Persie on just who should take Holland’s freekicks in the quadrennial.
But that was soon sorted without intervention after a Sneijder goal was witnessed in the group stages, then in the pre-quarterfinals, then the quarterfinals and again in the semi-finals.
Life was good and Sneijder, then having just turned 26, even better.A day before Holland were to meet Spain in the Johannesburg final, Sneijder is said to have summoned a few journalists to his room and shared a dream he had had.
“It was about the final. Who won? Who do you think? It was a remarkably good game. Afterwards I was satisfied. Again, I got man of the match.”
It didn’t stop there. Sneijder went on to fish out his phone and show the Dutch journos a text he received from Spain’s Sergio Ramos, his former team-mate at Real Madrid where the Dutch star was once worth Euro 27 million.
“See, it reads, ‘Will you take it easy, Wes? You’ve already got three prizes’. That says enough, doesn’t it?” But the reporters wanted more and asked him about the Golden Boot he was on the verge of winning.
“Who cares about the Golden Boot? I want the Golden Cup,” Sneijder is quoted as barking continued…