Dutch mountain stands in way of France

June 12th, 2008 - 9:05 am ICT by IANS  

By Barry Whelan
Berne (Switzerland), June 12 (DPA) It was in the 51st minute that Gennaro Gattuso probably realised he had bitten off more than he could chew. The AC Milan midfielder knows how to intimidate opponents with his fierce tackling and uncompromising nature, but when he faced up to Orlando Engelaar near the centre circle at the Stade de Suisse in Berne he resembled a terrier snarling at a Doberman Pinscher. The Italian number eight gave his Dutch opposite number a quick slap just to prove his bite is still as dangerous as his bark, earning him a yellow card in Italy’s disastrous Group C start.

But at 1.96 metres and weighing more than 90 kg, the muscular Dutch midfield giant could almost take Gattuso’s attention as a compliment. By then Engelaar and teammates had left their own mark on the Italians, who were trailing by two goals.

Now two-time European champions France, training in the Swiss town of Chatel-St-Denis with the snow-peaked Alps on the horizon, have this Dutch mountain of a man facing them in Berne Friday.

They probably did not have Engelaar in their sights before the tournament started. But while Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were shining in midfield against the Italians, Engelaar was going about his game in a noticeably neat and business-like fashion to make one or two clubs around Europe sit up.

Engelaar was one of the few unknown qualities in Marco van Basten’s squad going into Euro 2008, and at the age of 28 was playing only his seventh game for the national side against Italy.

After the withdrawal before the tournament of veteran Clarence Seedorf and with Bayern Munich’s Mark van Bommel also out of favour, van Basten had been looking for someone to sit in midfield, shield the defence and distribute the ball. Engelaar helped fill the role alongside Nigel de Jong and appears to have solved a problem.

Former Dutch star Ruud Gullit had already predicted the late bloomer could be one of the tournament surprises, praising the player’s passing ability as well as his overall disciplined game.

“At these kind of tournaments, these days there are no real surprises - everybody knows everybody. But we do have one guy in the Dutch camp who will give people a surprise: Orlando Engelaar,” he said ahead of the tournament.

“He is a good player, no, a really good player, a playmaker. He is a big, powerful guy and uses the ball very well…Engelaar could be a surprise for many people.”

Engelaar is, in fact, an erstwhile striker who played for his local Rotterdam club Feyenoord in his youth but whose career had since faltered somewhat.

He left the Netherlands to play for Genk in neighbouring Belgium, but returned in the summer of 2006 to the Netherlands to join Twente Enschede.

It proved to be the turning point. Twente coach Fred Rutten persuaded Engelaar to play in midfield where he was made captain and led the team to Champions League qualification.

“Fred Rutten has given me the chance to develop myself,” Engelaar told De Telegraaf newspaper.

“He picked me up when I had a less productive period at Racing Genk. He told me that I could become a good footballer in the Netherlands in a position behind the striker.”

Engelaar’s form at Twente did not go unnoticed by van Basten, who gave him his international debut in a friendly against South Korea June 2, 2007. A year later he looks a sound choice in a more defensive role.

Rutten has now left Twente to take over at Schalke 04 after Euro 2008, and would dearly like to take his old captain with him.

The Bundesliga club is interested in a deal but has been haggling with Twente over a transfer demand of some 8 million euros ($12.5 million), a price which could well now go up if Engelaar and the Dutch continue as they began against Italy.

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