[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] He scored only three goals in 31 matches for Liverpool this season, and has just one at the World Cup, but Dirk Kuyt, who turns 30 next week, is a key component of the Dutch attack that faces a tough Spanish defense in the World Cup final.
Kuyt espouses confidence that only one game plan can prevail against Spain: Do whatever Germany didn’t do, and do it as often as possible.
“You could see the Germans were afraid of Spain,” said Kuyt of the 1-0 Spanish semifinal win. “They didn't try to attack. We are going to attack and then you will see weaknesses coming to the surface. If you play like the Germans, you are definitely going to lose.”
Insistent attack suits Kuyt’s personality. He’s been a formidable presence for the Dutch, though not as spectacular as midfield catalyst Wesley Sneijder or mercurial winger Arjen Robben.
He played on the right side of midfield in the group phase as Robben recovered from a hamstring injury, then shifted over to the left, where his persistent challenges and brazen dribbles have blunted the likes of Brazilian right back Maicon as the Dutch have won all six of their games.
He’s a forward who can harass and tackle like a defensive mid, or get to the line and hit a cross as a traditional winger, or go up and fight for head balls as would a defender. Normally, Robin van Persie lines up in the middle between Kuyt and Robben, yet when van Persie goes wide or drops back, Kuyt can play effectively as a striker. His runs across defenders are a key element in freeing up Sneijder to thread passes or find shots.
He’s also unlike Rafael Van der Vaart, a skilled attacker some would prefer to Kuyt in midfield. Coach Bert Van Marwijk, who deploys Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel as primarily defensive mids, wants his bite and desire on that flank so the other two can keep the center secure. He also needs Kuyt to lead by example.
“He always gives everyone a signal how it should be done,” said van Marwijk. “And his impact and enthusiasm is very infectious. He is incredibly important.”
In the 1970’s, the Netherlands mesmerized the world with its whirling, stylish Total Football. In Kuyt, the Dutch have someone very close to the Total Team Player.
“The way he fights in this team, his workload rubs off on all the other players,” said captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who as a 35-year-old left back greatly appreciates the range and effort of the man in front of him.
Sneijder headed the winner of a 2-1 quarterfinal triumph over Brazil on a corner kick flicked to him by Kuyt, who beat Luis Fabiano to the ball at the near post and glanced it off the top of his head for Sneijder to stick into the net. Kuyt’s role in that goal sums up his value to the Dutch team; when he’s involved, good things often happen.
In the round of 16, Kuyt ran down a quickly taken throw-in and nodded the ball past Slovakian keeper Jan Mucha, then waited patiently on the left side of the penalty area for help to arrive. When it did, a neat square ball to Sneijder set up the clinching goal.
Kuyt had taken just 11 shots yet five have been on-frame. His only goal came in the opening match against Denmark, when he followed up an Eljero Elia shot off the post. Elia came into the match a sub to spark the left flank, as Kuyt had been deployed on the right in Robben’s absence.
If he’s not pressuring the back line with a determined diagonal run, strong aerial challenge, or forceful dribble, Kuyt is closing down an opponent with the ball or cutting off space. His anticipated duel with the Spanish right back Sergio Ramos will be one of the final’s fascinating subplots, especially if he can emulate one of Germany’s few successes, that of getting Lukas Podolski and substitute left back Marcell Jansen behind Ramos in the second half.
Kuyt will also be asked to help out defensively on a midfielder, perhaps Andres Iniesta, Xavi or Pedro, depending on the flow of Spain’s attack, and win balls in the air on set plays.
There will be sexier, more elegant personalities to peruse during this match, but none will be more committed than the bustling, blond pest of moderate talent yet boundless desire.