On a night of Feyenoord heroes, it seems unfair to single out one player above the rest. But it is true to say that they would not be returning to the Netherlands with a one-goal cushion were it not for their captain, Paul Bosvelt.
It was he who made the run that created his team's goal in the defeat of Internazionale FC at the San Siro stadium. Bosvelt surged from one penalty area to the other before flicking a pass into the feet of Pierre van Hooijdonk, whose cross was turned into the net by Inter defender Ivan Cordoba. That he did so in a UEFA Cup semi-final means rare international recognition for the 32-year-old midfield player - not to mention good publicity.
Bosvelt, remember, gained notoriety for a two-footed lunge on the Manchester United FC full-back Denis Irwin in a UEFA Champions League game in 1997 - a challenge Dutch observers considered totally out of character. Yet his performance in Milan marked the rehabilitation, not of a reputation, but of a career interrupted by a 12-month battle for fitness.
At the end of last season, Bosvelt suffered two broken cheekbones and a blood disorder requiring hospital treatment. At the San Siro, however, he was back to his best in a role similar to the one patented by Roy Keane at United: namely that of the holding midfield player, always ready to give and receive the ball. Like Keane, he was aided and abetted by his wide men - Bonaventure Kalou and Robin van Persie.
Kalou has ambitions of playing in Italy and did his cause no harm with a superb first-half display. More than once, his clever footwork and sheer body strength carried him through Inter's defensive ranks. The good news for the Nerazzurri is that he is likely to miss the second leg with a pulled hamstring. Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Van Persie was another to leave the pitch to a standing ovation when substituted late in the game. His running style and lean frame evoke the old-fashioned winger, and he lived up to type with a penchant for knocking the ball past the opposing full-back and running by to collect it.
Tomasson in the 'hole'
The Manchester United connection was also apparent in the deployment of Jon Dahl Tomasson in the position reserved for Paul Scholes in United's Champions League games. A forward by trade, the Dane operated between Bosvelt and lone striker Pierre van Hooijdonk, with the combative Shinji Ono making up the midfield numbers. Ono is suspended for next week's game in Rotterdam having picked up a yellow card too many.
Still, Feyenoord can at least count on Bosvelt. His commitment is such that he recently sacrificed his international prospects for the Feyenoord cause. When Bosvelt asked to be omitted from the Netherlands squad for the friendly against Spain, it was because he felt he needed to save his energies for his club commitments in the Eredivisie and UEFA Cup.
National coach Dick Advocaat was unimpressed and brought his international career to a premature close. Yet if Feyenoord can finish the job they started at the San Siro on Thursday, Bosvelt's dedication might just have its reward.
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