02/07/2014 12:14 BST | Updated 01/09/2014 06:59 BST

Player Focus: Rampaging Robben Leading the Dutch Charge in Brazil


Much has been said of Arjen Robben's exploits in the aftermath of Netherlands' 2-1 win over Mexico. Wesley Sneijder dragged the Oranje back into the tie with a thumping volley in the 88th minute, before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar fired the Dutch into the quarter-finals of the World Cup from the spot. However, Robben has been the man in the spotlight having allegedly dived to win the penalty that saw Louis van Gaal's side secure victory.

His theatrical fall saw him lambasted by those who were backing Mexico on Sunday, even if Rafael Márquez was foolish enough to lunge at the player in the dying embers of the match. Regardless though, the winger has been one of the most impressive performers in Brazil. Only Lionel Messi (9.2) has a better WhoScored rating than Robben (8.91) at the World Cup so far, reflecting just how well he has played.

The 30-year-old has won the WhoScored man of the match award in each of his four appearances in South America as Netherlands strive to go one further than 2010 and win the World Cup. It's even arguable that Robben is playing out of his strongest position under Van Gaal, so his form is all the more commendable in that regard. He frequently played on the wing for Bayern Munich last season, but has been deployed more centrally for the Dutch this summer.

Partnering Robin van Persie in attack, Robben's pace and directness on the ball has defences struggling to contain the Bayern ace. While he often has more players to pass by operating in the centre, his close control means it is still difficult for opposition players to stop him once he has gained a head of steam.


Only Alexis Sánchez (22) has completed more successful dribbles than Robben (17) at the World Cup, reinforcing just how potent an attacking threat he is when on the ball. Teams will often man-mark or double up on him in order to limit his impact, but his displays in South America indicate this is a worthless tact. Not only is Robben able to beat his man with ease when up against it, but this defensive approach drags players out of position.

Robben has regularly drifted to the wings in order to collect the ball and if he is double-marked, space will begin to emerge between the lines. The offensive quality of the Dutch means Van Persie, Sneijder or runners from deep can capitalise on the space gifted to them.

His pace is also a lethal attacking outlet when Netherlands are up against it. If the Dutch defence can soak up the pressure, they can hit teams on the counter-attack, with Robben a highly effective threat when breaking. The goalscoring ability to match his speed has seen him score the most counter-attacking goals (2) at the World Cup.

This was exhibited expertly in Netherlands' 5-1 win over Spain. La Furia Roja were committing men forward to save face in an underwhelming performance, only to come unstuck late on once more. Wesley Sneijder executed a perfectly weighted through ball for Robben to run onto and despite Sergio Ramos' head start, the Dutchman burst past his Spanish counterpart before burying in the top corner to complete the rout - it was the perfect example of how to maximise Robben's ability.


Only James Rodríguez (5), Messi, Neymar and Thomas Müller (4) have netted more goals at the World Cup than Robben (3), though he was unlucky not to add to this having forced a good save from Guillermo Ochoa in the second half during their win over Mexico. Meanwhile, no player has created more clear-cut goalscoring chances than Robben (4) so far.

Not only is the Netherlands star capable of scoring when needed, but his creative ability is further testament to the all-round attacking quality that has won him the adulation of his peers at the World Cup. His performance against Mexico may yet be remembered for all the wrong reasons, despite many believing that referee Pedro Proença was right to award the Dutch a penalty late on.

However, the consistency of his displays in Brazil, all 4 of which have been of the highest standard, are what should spring to mind when Robben's name is uttered. Despite rarely being mentioned in the same breath as Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the fact is the winger has earned the right to be spoken of on a similar level to the superstars of football. Should he go on to help Netherlands secure World Cup glory, fans and pundits alike will lavish the praise upon the mercurial winger, in the same way they have Messi and Ronaldo in the past.

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