Tuesday, April 23, 2024

After triple in Italy, Sneijder goes for World Cup


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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nowadays, success comes at such a staggering pace for Wesley Sneijder that he can’t even find a spot in his agenda to enjoy it.
After leading Inter Milan to a triple of titles — Italian league, cup and Champions League — the Dutch playmaker now has a shot at an unheard of quadruple in Sunday’s World Cup final against Spain.
No European has ever done it before.
Sneijder won the Italian Cup on May 5, added the Serie A title May 16 and the Champions League trophy on May 22.
Now, he could add the World Cup on Sunday, making for the most productive spell in European football history — 80 years and counting.
“They don’t even give you time to think about it,” Sneijder said. “Afterward, I’ll have time enough to enjoy it. Now it doesn’t really enter my mind.”
In a tumultuous season, Sneijder is also still in the running for the World Cup top-scoring title, tied at five goals with Spain’s David Villa. That competition could also turn in his favor on Sunday.
And to think that only in August, Real Madrid’s biggest wish was to dump him on the transfer market after deeming him not good enough for the Spanish powerhouse.
Inter Milan realized he was a bargain, and coach Jose Mourinho has long been know to recognize genius. Sneijder has been splitting defenses all year with pinpoint passes and changed matches with his free kicks. All of a sudden, instead of looking at a glum future, everything turned out perfectly.
He had always said that at 26, his career should hit its full stride. He turned 26 two days before the World Cup started.
But it had already long been clear that this season belonged to Sneijder.
He was the cornerstone of Inter’s attack all season, and his pinpoint pass to Diego Milito set up the opener in the Italian club’s 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. It felt even better since it happened at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, his former home before the club rejected him.
Not that he had much time to enjoy that either.
“Three days later and I was off to Seefeld,” he said, referring to the location in the Austrian Alps where the Dutch had their pre-World Cup training camp.
He hasn’t missed a stride since. Under Sneijder’s midfield guidance, the Dutch won all three group games despite the absence of injured winger Arjen Robben. Then Sneijder scored in a 2-1 win over Slovakia in the second round and netted both goals to eliminate Brazil in the quarterfinals 2-1 — including a rare header despite being the smallest man on the pitch.
He also scored in the 3-2 semifinal win over Uruguay.
“You have to lust after goals,” he said. “You have to feel great about yourself and then luck comes your way.”
Even if he is the only European now in line to clinch a unique quadruple, it has been done before in Brazil.
Pele and six other Santos players won the 1962 World Cup after taking the Sao Paulo league title when no national league existed, the Brazil Cup and the Copa Libertadores.
Others came perilously close. In 1986, when Argentina won its second World Cup, River Plate had three players on the team that won the Copa Libertadores and league, but lost the cup final after a 0-0 draw by the draw of a lot.


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