Wesley Sneijder has announced his retirement from international football. Michael Bell looks back at the midfielder’s career in an Oranje jersey.

International debut

In February 2003, Sneijder made his debut in the Ajax first team and he quickly established himself as a crucial player in Amsterdam and caught the eye of then Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat, who selected him for the April friendly with Portugal. A then 18-year-old, Sneijder made his debut from the bench in the game that ended 1-1.

Sneijder v Scotland 

Later that year in 2003, Netherlands faced a crucial European Championship qualifier second leg against Scotland, having lost the first match 1-0. Sneijder didn’t feature in the first game but was picked by Advocaat alongside fellow youngsters Rafael van der Vaart and Wilfred Bouma. Sneijder destroyed the Scots, scoring the opening goal and then contributing three assists in a 6-0 victory which led Oranje to the 2004 tournament. Sneijder’s role was so prominent he was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates at the end of the game (see photo above).

Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006

Despite his masterclass against Scotland, Sneijder remained a bit part player for Netherlands over the next year and only made two appearances at Euro 2004, where Oranje lost in the semi-finals to Portugal. Two years later, under new boss Marco van Basten, Sneijder started all four of Netherlands games at the 2006 World Cup but failed to have a major impact as Oranje once again lost to Portugal, this time in the first knockout round.

Major breakthrough at Euro 2008

Now a Real Madrid player, much was expected of Sneijder at Euro 2008 and he celebrated his 24th birthday with one of the goals of the tournament, an acrobatic effort against Italy in a 3-0 win. Sneijder then scored another excellent goal in the 4-1 win over France, a long range effort which went in off the crossbar. Sneijder’s brilliance couldn’t prevent Netherlands losing in the quarter-finals against Russia.

Sneijder at World Cup 2010

Netherlands weren’t fancied heading into the World Cup in South Africa but they rallied their way to the final thanks to the excellent performances of Sneijder. The midfielder scored the winner in the group game against Japan (1-0) and also netted in a 2-1 win over Slovakia in the first knock-out round. Netherlands then came up against favourites Brazil, and despite falling behind, came out 2-1 winners thanks to a double from Sneijder which included a rare header which has become one of the famous images of his career.

Sneijder scored again in the semi-final win over Uruguay taking his tally to five goals for the tournament. He couldn’t however inspire Netherlands to a final victory with Spain triumphing 1-0 in extra-time. Sneijder was named in the team of the tournament and for many was unlucky not to win the Ballon D’or that year after leading Inter Milan to Champions League glory that year too.

Euro 2012 disappointment

After reaching the World Cup final, Netherlands went into Euro 2012 as one of the favourites but were unlucky to be drawn in a group of death alongside Germany, Portugal and Denmark. The tournament was a disaster as Netherlands lost all three games and finished bottom. Sneijder played in all three games.

Sneijder important again at World Cup 2014

Louis van Gaal then took over the ropes and easily led Netherlands to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, Oranje were expected to struggle in a group including Spain, Chile and Australia. Sneijder was stripped of the captaincy heading into the tournament, with Van Gaal prefering Robin van Persie.

The first game saw Netherlands get their revenge on Spain, winning 5-1 with Sneijder earning his 100th cap. Netherlands reached the round of 16 were they faced Mexico. Oranje were heading out until the 88th minute when Sneijder hit an excellent equaliser from outside the box which led to a late rally and a penalty saw Netherlands progress. Sneijder netted his penalty in the win over Costa Rice in the quarter-final but missed in the semi-final shootout loss to Argentina. This proved to be his final match in a major tournament as an injury saw him miss out on the third-place play-off with Brazil.

Sneijder’s final Oranje moments

The years that followed saw Oranje miss out on Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup with Sneijder playing a limited role. When he did play he was often played out on a wing and failed to have much of an impact. He became the most capped Netherlands player ever in the 5-0 win over Luxembourg and scored the second goal in the game. The 3-0 win over Romania on the 14th of November 2017 was expected to be his 133rd and final Netherlands cap after he announced his international retirement in early 2018. However, Ronald Koeman has agreed to honour the midfielder with one final appearance in the friendly match with Peru on the 6th of September 2018.

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