By Jonathan Wilson
Paul Bosvelt turned 33 on Wednesday. In footballing terms, the clock is ticking. Others have gone on longer, of course, but his high-octane and combative style of play, as Manchester United FC midfield player Roy Keane's injury problems show, cannot be sustained in an ageing body. The Dutch, anyway, have always shown less sentiment than most about replacing the old with the new.
Signs of age
The injuries are beginning to catch up with the Feyenoord captain. Last season may have ended in his greatest triumph as he lifted the UEFA Cup, but that success came after a year-long battle with a blood disorder and two broken cheekbones. This season too has been hampered by injury. "I was out for three weeks," he told uefa.com, "but
I'm not unhappy with the way I've been playing. You can always do better of course."
Bosvelt knows that UEFA EURO 2004™ represents his last realistic chance of international glory, but he is determined not to let that thought put him under undue pressure. "The games are always exciting," he said. "I always look forward to joining up." Nevertheless, he acknowledges that his position has been made even more precarious by the emergence of the best generation of young players in a decade.
"It is always difficult to say what will happen when good young players come through," added Bosvelt. "They are all very different and have their strengths. At Feyenoord, Robin van Persie is very strong at the moment. Also, for Ajax, Wesley Sneijder is a very promising player." And that is not to mention the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Andy van der Meyde. "There are good prospects for the future," Bosvelt went on. "
When it is time to go, I have to be honest with myself and step aside."
The present is also showing a welcome return to form for the Dutch after missing out on the FIFA World Cup last summer. The Netherlands have begun their qualifying campaign for the tournament with 3-0 victories over Belarus and Austria, and that has come as a relief to all concerned. "There is a bad feeling about the Dutch team because we missed the World Cup," Bosvelt said. "We now want to show that we are a good team and we have the quality to do that. We were unlucky and not good enough at certain times so we want to make up for that."
The Netherlands remain unbeaten since the defeat by the Republic of Ireland which cost them their place at Korea/Japan, a ten-match run that includes friendly victories over Germany and Argentina. On Saturday in Rotterdam, though, the Netherlands face their sternest test since Dublin as they take on a Czech Republic side who have also won their opening two qualifiers - 2-0 victories against Moldova away and Belarus in Teplice.
Spine and spirit
"We are on a good run at the moment and haven't lost for a long time," Bosvelt added. "We have a really good spine to our side and the spirit is very good. The game against the Czech Republic is our biggest game because they are our strongest rivals in the group. If we beat them then things will be looking very good for us."
Saturday's other game in the group sees Belarus, who have lost all three of their games so far, face Moldova, also without a point as yet, in Minsk. The Dutch and Czechs are in action again on Wednesday, away to Moldova and home to Austria respectively.
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