On Sunday, Robben-mania officially descended on Holland, and maybe even the rest of the footballing world, after he misplaced a back-heel ball during Holland's trashing of Hungary to pick up what seemed like a serious injury to his left hamstring. Everyone was left wondering; would Robben be able to make it to the World Cup, or would we lose him, just like the Germans lost Ballack, the Ghanians lost Essien, England lost Ferdinand, Portugal lost... oh well, the list is endless. Here is how I survived 24 terrible hours of waiting for The Verdict.
Embarrassingly, I didn't even catch the game against Hungary last Saturday, as I was out with my own football team. Since we were staying in Belgium for the weekend, we had to rely on mobile internet for the score. Hungary scored 0-1 and the news spread quickly among my team members, with everyone being generally pleased with this goal, since it would redirect Holland back into the realm of realism. Hmm, not quite. Van Persie equalized before half time and, on the back of this goal, Holland decided to rev it all up a little and simply destroy lovely Hungary: 6-1. So much for the realism, you would think.
I only heard of the 6-1 when the match was already over and couldn't quite believe it, since the last update of the match still had me in the 1-1 world of thoughts. But the information seemed to be legit and I went on enjoying the sun for the rest of the day. Until one of my team members, in a casual announcement, dropped the 'Robben is injured-bomb' on top of my unknowing head. Boom... What, Robben injured? How bad is it? Is it his hamstring? Oh dear God, there goes our title.
And so Holland sunk into despair. Because what would we do without Robben? As for me, I was growing increasingly pessimistic about our chances and this pessimism stayed with me for the better part of the next day as well. The Dutch squad flew to Johannesburg directly after the match against Hungary and Robben wasn't on that plane. Either way you looked at it; that didn't bode well. Robben was planned for a scan of his hamstring on Sunday and everyone expected to have some usable information around noon. But all remained quiet on the Robben front.
The anticipation climaxed well into the night on Sunday, after the KNVB (Dutch football association) first announced that a press conference was planned for Monday and the NOS (main Dutch broadcasting station) reported that this probably meant bad news. When the 8 o'clock Evening News opened their broadcast with the Robben-story, it was finally official that the country, myself happily included, had gone insane.
And then, all of a sudden, the news came that the injury was not as bad as originally perceived and that he might have a shot at the World Cup. The sigh of relief may not have been quite like the one when Van Nistelrooy equalized against Russia in '08, but it felt good nontheless. The KNVB's plan with Robben was to let him work with a renowned physiotherapist who could shorten the recovery period from 4-6 weeks to 1 week. The therapy would be very unpleasant but equally effective. And so Robben underwent his fair share of pain on Monday and Tuesday, before finally being able to confirm that indeed all was going according to plan and that the World Cup was no longer in danger for him personally. Holland rejoiced.
So, after this modest whirlwind of emotions before the tournament has even started, everything is back at square one. Robben will probably not see much action until the second round, assuming we make it there. If all goes well with Robben and Holland, he might pick up some minutes in the last group match against Cameroon before being fully fit come the second round. The general consensus in Holland is that this is fine, because the tournament will only really start after the group phase. Van der Vaart, and on occasion Afellay and Elia, will be more than able to fill in for Robben in the first three matches, providing us the possibility of concealing the greatest Dutch weapon, fielding the Fantastic Four, until crunch time. And so Johan Cruyff is right once again: every disadvantage has its advantage.