Soccer: In the name of the father-in-law

By Steve Tongue

The son-in-law also rises, though not as far as captaining the Dutch team. Once Giovanni van Bronckhorst retires after tomorrow's final, the job of leading the Oranje will be vacant.

Mark van Bommel, who is in the unusual and potentially tricky position of being married to the coach's daughter, would be an obvious contender for the honour but has already ruled it out, saying yesterday: "There are several players who have made more international appearances and I don't really have the ambition to be the new skipper. It has nothing to do with the fact that Bert van Marwijk is my father-in-law."

The statement showed a sensitivity rarely observed by the combative Van Bommel's opponents, many of whom have come to curse his physical approach in this tournament.

For a long period, he was the player who had committed most fouls without, to general incredulity, having received a yellow card.

When he finally did so, late in Tuesday's semifinal against Uruguay, it was for kicking away the ball rather than an opposition player. Uruguay's Walter Gargano, left limping in the build-up to the opening goal, was one of many to feel the pain.

Derided by purists, the experienced 33-year-old is nevertheless the sort of performer that players love to have on their side. As a midfield enforcer, he wins the ball for others such as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to use, and with Manchester City's Nigel de Jong alongside him forms a formidable barrier in front of the Dutch back line.

Spain's midfield pass-masters Xavi and Andres Iniesta, briefly his club-mates at Barcelona, know they will do well to wear their thickest shin pads tomorrow.

Van Bommel's total of 62 caps, begun as long ago as October 2000, would have been considerably higher but for a two-year absence. Having played at the 2006 World Cup, he was left out of the squad by Marco van Basten, for whom he later declined to play.

Only when Van Marwijk, by then his father-in-law, took over two years later did he return, aware that charges of nepotism would hang heavily if he did not justify his selection.

"I admit that there was a lot of pressure when I returned to the Oranje," he said. "I couldn't afford to play a single bad game. People analyse you more and that puts pressure on you. But I think I have more than justified my position."

On the eve of the country's biggest match for 32 years, it would be hard for anyone to argue with that forthright assessment.


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