Giovanni van Bronckhorst has only one better way to say goodbye for good. That is to score in his last competitive game as well, and finally give the Netherlands the World Cup.
Article continues below ...
"I hope it will be the most beautiful game of my life," said Van Bronckhorst, who is retiring from football after the tournament but made sure he will go out in style by scoring the first goal in a 3-2 win over Uruguay in the semifinals Tuesday.
His name has already been scrapped from the teamsheet of his last club, Feyenoord Rotterdam – but the Dutch team though will keep him on until Sunday, and for good reason.
The captain gave the Dutch the lead with a blistering 35-meter left-foot drive that sailed past Fernando Muslera and went in off the post to break open the game against Uruguay.
Van Bronckhorst then claimed the biggest defensive play of the semifinal too, when he rushed back to head a dangerous high ball out of the goalmouth in the 49th minute, with the score at 1-1.
At 35, Van Bronckhorst was more than two years older than anyone else on the pitch, yet celebrated like a teenager with the rest of the team, almost an hour after the match.
"There were no tears, just joy," he said. "The last game in my career and it’s a World Cup final, what can you say? It could not be more beautiful."
Wherever he has gone, Van Bronckhorst has reaped success, whether with Rangers, Arsenal or Barcelona. He has won league titles in three countries – Scotland, England and Spain – and the Champions League with Barcelona.
And made friends along the way too. With his success at the World Cup, he already received messages of support from a wide cast of characters, including Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell. Lionel Messi once even picked him as the best left back in the world.
As a defender, he is known for his dashes upfield on the left, clean marking and his tight organizational instincts to read and neutralize opposing plays as they develop. And as understated as he is as a person and defender, as spectacular his goals can be.
"It was super, and great for him," forward Arjen Robben said. "He was playing the last two matches of his career and now the very last one is the final of the World Cup. It’s fantastic."
He was given the captain’s armband only two years ago, when goalie Edwin van der Sar retired from international play. He was seen as a transitional figure at best, not a standout leader thriving on bluster and brawn.
Yet now, he has taken the team as far as Johan Cruyff did in 1974. The Dutch will either play Spain or Germany, who meet in Durban on Wednesday.
"For everyone, it will be the game of their life," Van Bronckhorst said.
For himself, the last game of his life.
He began his international playing career against Brazil on Aug. 31, 1996, and played his 105th match for Oranje Tuesday, scoring his sixth goal overall.
Only Van der Sar with 130 international caps and Frank de Boer with 112 have made more appearances for the Netherlands.
"It was incredibly beautiful. It was really a perfect shot," said De Boer, now the assistant coach of the Dutch, when describing the opening goal. "It will almost certainly never happen again to strike a ball like that."
Considering Van Bronckhorst only has one game left, De Boer’s prediction stands a good chance to hold true.