Netherlands captain and undoubted star player Arjen Robben announced his international retirement on Tuesday. Michael Bell looks back at his key moments from his debut to his final appearance.

Netherlands debut v Portugal (April 2003)

After impressing during his first season with PSV Eindhoven, Arjen Robben was called up by Dick Advocaat for a friendly with Portugal, and the 19-year-old came off the bench with 13 minutes left. The match finished 1-1 with Patrick Kluivert’s early goal cancelled out by a Frank de Boer own goal.

First Netherlands goal v Moldova (11th November 2003)

Robben was in an out of Advocaat’s squad after making his debut in April, but he was included for the Euro 2004 qualifier with Moldova. He came off the bench in the 75th minute and found the net to make it 5-0 just before full time. Robben latched onto a through ball, rounded the Moldovan goalkeeper before slotting into the empty net.

First major tournament: Euro 2004

Advocaat included Robben in his squad for Euro 2004 but the winger remained on the bench for the opening draw with Germany. Robben was then added to the starting line-up for the second game against the Czech Republic and he played a key role in the first half, setting up both Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooy to make it 2-0. However, after the Czech’s pulled one back, Advocaat decided to substitute Robben, and eventually, Netherlands lost 3-2. This led to severe criticism for Advocaat with the Dutch media baffled at why he substituted the best player on the pitch.

Robben started the next three games, with Netherlands eventually losing 2-1 to Portugal in the semi-finals.

First World Cup: 2006

Robben scored twice and provided three assists during the World Cup qualifiers and as expected he was included in the final squad for the tournament in Germany. Robben scored the winning goal against Serbia in the opening game, before providing an assist a 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast.

He was named man of the match in both games but was rested for the 0-0 draw with Argentina. The last 16 saw Netherlands come up against Portugal, and again Netherlands were on the end of a defeat. Robben played the full game but couldn’t prevent a 1-0 loss.

Euro 2008

Marco van Basten took over the national team in the run up to Euro 2008 and Robben struggled to make an impact under the new coach during the qualifiers. He was included in the squad for the tournament but missed the opening game against Italy, and was on the bench for the second tie with France. Robben was substituted in at half-time and lit up the second half, providing an excellent assist for Robin van Persie before netting a stunning goal himself in a 4-1 victory.

Robben then started the win over Romania to make it three wins from three in the group stages but was then on the bench as Oranje went out to Russia in the quarter-finals.

World Cup 2010

Robben suffered several injuries which hampered his preparations for the 2010 World Cup, but Bert van Marwijk included the winger in his final squad, despite the fact he would miss the opening two games. Robben finally appeared from the bench in the third group game against Cameroon, and he played a crucial role in the 2-1 victory. His shot hit the post before landing at the feet of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who found the net.

Fit-again, Robben started the last 16 tie with Slovakia and he netted the opening goal, latching onto a long ball before cutting in on his left foot and rifling a low strike into the bottom corner. The winger would play 71 minutes before being substituted in the 2-1 victory and was named man of the match. Robben provided an assist in the 2-1 win over Brazil and then netted a well-placed header as Netherlands beat Uruguay 3-2 to make the World Cup final.

Robben had played a crucial role to get Oranje to the final, and he could have been the man to win the trophy for his country. On 62 minutes, Wesley Sneijder played Robben through one-on-one with Iker Casillas, but the Dutchman couldn’t beat the goalkeeper. Spain would go on to win 1-0 in extra time with Andres Iniesta scoring the winner.

Euro 2012

Robben missed the whole qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 through injury but he recovered in time to be named in the squad for the tournament. Netherlands performances during the tournament were a disaster, with Oranje losing all three games, but Robben was one of the bright sparks. He hit the post in the opening 1-0 loss to Denmark and then provided assists in both the 2-1 losses to Germany and Portugal.

World Cup 2014: Robben’s tournament

Louis van Gaal took over for the 2014 World Cup and he decided to make Robben the crucial point of his attack in a 5-3-2 formation. Netherlands went into the tournament expected to struggle in a group containing Spain, Chile and Australia, but Van Gaal’s tactics and Robben’s brilliance inspired them to the semi-finals.

In the opening game against Spain, Netherlands fell behind but then rallied to a 5-1 victory with Robben unstoppable and scoring two excellent goals in the second half. His second goal was spectacular as he burst past Sergio Ramos with ease before leaving Casillas on the floor and rifling a strike into the net. Some redemption for his miss four years earlier.

Robben would go on to net in the 3-2 win over Australia and provided an assist as Netherlands beat Chile to top the group and set up a last 16 tie with Mexico. Netherlands were heading out of the tournament before Wesley Sneijder equalised with a few minutes to go. Then in injury time, Robben went down in the box to earn Netherlands a penalty which Huntelaar netted to send them through. The Mexico fans called it a dive by Robben, and judging by the countless abuse he gets on our Twitter timeline since it is still something they are struggling to get over to this day.

Netherlands drew 0-0 with Costa Rica in the quarter-finals but went through on penalties with Robben netting his. The semi-final saw Netherlands lose on penalties to Argentina after another 0-0 draw. Robben had the best chance for Oranje during the game but was prevented a sure goal by an excellent Javier Mascherano challenge.

Robben provided an assist as Netherlands beat Brazil 3-0 to win the third-place playoff game and the winger was named in the team of the tournament.

Netherlands captaincy and failed Euro 2016 campaign

After 2014, Netherlands national team turned to Guus Hiddink to take charge and he oversaw the start of the failed Euro 2016 campaign before Danny Blind took over. In August 2015, Robin van Persie was stripped of the Netherlands captaincy and it was handed to Robben. However, Robben would miss six of Netherlands Euro qualifiers through injury, with Oranje only winning twice without their leader and star player. For the first time since he was part of the squad, Netherlands missed a major tournament.

World Cup 2018 campaign

Netherlands looked to prove that the Euro failure was a one-off, but Robben missed their opening three World Cup qualifiers, and they only achieved four points from those matches. Robben would score four times in the next six qualifiers, but they went into the final match against Sweden needing a 7-0 victory to snatch second in the group and a potential playoff spot.

Robben’s final appearance against Sweden

Netherlands needed a miracle in Amsterdam and it wasn’t to be. Instead, the Johan Cruyff Stadion played tribute to Arjen Robben who lit up the 2-0 victory, in what turned out to be his final Oranje appearance.

Robben had refused to discuss international retirement going into the game, but his tears during the national anthem made it clear that his time in an Oranje jersey was about to end. When the game got underway, Robben was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch and netted twice. His first was a Panenka penalty before he smashed a stunning second into the net from outside the box. The second half turned into a drab affair but the home crowd chanted Robben’s name towards the end to pay tribute to the finest Oranje player of his generation.

After the game, Robben, as expected, called it a day. He made 96 appearances for his country, scored 37 goals and provided 30 assists. He is tied with Dennis Bergkamp as the fourth top goalscorer for the Dutch national team and ninth on the list of most capped players.




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