Not for Rafael van der Vaart the studied coyness of the diplomat, the fear of hubris, of tempting the gods. The Netherlands midfielder will settle for nothing less than the ultimate prize as heads into UEFA EURO 2012, and he does not care who knows it.
The EURO will be a success for us when we win it," he told UEFA.com, as the Oranje prepare to open their campaign against Denmark on Saturday. "And you have to say that out loud as well, because saying things like 'a semi-final is nice'… No, we were finalists in the World Cup, so we also need to have the highest ambition now."
Ready to contest his third UEFA European Championship after getting his first taste at UEFA EURO 2004, the 29-year-old feels that his side's time has come, in fact. "It's also a case of being the ideal age now," he explained. "I won't say it's now or never, but it's certainly a moment that you could describe as, 'If you can do it now, then it should definitely happen'."
With much of the Netherlands' starting lineup unchanged since their showpiece loss to Spain at South Africa 2010, that optimism is easy to understand. Indeed, many of the team's most important figures have been fixtures for considerably longer, while coach Bert van Marwijk has been perfecting his approach since Marco van Basten's charges succumbed to Russia at the quarter-final stage four years ago.
"A lot has stayed the same [since South Africa]," said Van der Vaart. "I don't think our national coach is the type to make a lot of changes. I think he likes to stick with this tight and united squad.
I hope we play some better football than in 2010. I had the feeling then that we could even have been better, and we hope to do that now during this EURO."
Drawn in perhaps the tournament's most competitive section, they may well have to hit greater heights in Poland and Ukraine, and they certainly cannot afford to start slowly – though Saturday's 6-0 defeat of Northern Ireland suggested they have hit form at the right time.
"At a World Cup, it's a bit easier because sometimes you play against a couple of teams in the group stage when you don't have to be at 100%, and you have some time to grow into a tournament like that. But when you are in a group with Germany, Portugal and also Denmark – because many people forget that they are also very strong – then you have to be ready from the first minute onwards."
Van Marwijk's side overcame Denmark 2-0 in their opening match at the 2010 World Cup, but Van der Vaart believes the Scandinavian hopefuls will be tougher opponents this time around. "They made it very difficult for us," recounted the Tottenham Hotspur FC schemer. "And I think they are better now than two years ago. They have a few good young players and a good coach, so I'm interested to see how they'll do. It will be a very important game for both teams, because if you don't win there, it becomes a very difficult story, with the remaining games against Portugal and Germany."
Capped 96 times by his country, Van der Vaart also needs the Oranje to see their way past those sides to become the Netherlands' fifth player to reach a century – but it is the atmosphere of the tournament that he is most looking forward to for now.
"I always enjoy it a lot when I arrive in a country and the EURO is being held there," he said. "There's the tension before the games; all the hype in the press; 'this player needs to go in, that one needs to go out' etc. That whole circus, I just like to sit in the middle of that. And especially when it goes well… then you enjoy it a lot." Providing the Netherlands head home with the trophy, of course.
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