Brazil’s World Cup 2014 had everything: great kits, underdog success stories, crying children, that old man in the crowd with the moustache who tried to eat his own novelty World Cup hat when Germany handed Brazil’s arse to them, volleys.
It had players like Thomas Müller - the world’s best bad player, James Rodriguez - a man who reinvented the word ‘James’ and we all just nodded along, and Luis Suarez - come back, Luis, please - would have you sneaking peaks at Vines on your phone in the office and making you shout “FUCKING HELL” dead loud. It was ace. But, most importantly, it had Dirk Kuyt marking Lionel Messi out of game in the semifinal.
On a scorching summer’s eve in Sao Paolo, Louis van Gaal made the seemingly inexplicable decision to play Kuyt as part of a five-man defence faced by Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain and beautiful, peak Leo Messi.
Now, Dirk (see also: Derek, Degsy) had forged his career as a poacher at Feyenoord, before Rafa Benítez converted him to a right winger at Liverpool. His monastic dedication to fucking a goal in at the back post with his own face - his weird, cauliflower face - endeared him to fans not usually so keen on players who couldn’t trap a bag of cement. He played on the right of midfield in the 2010 World Cup final for Holland, scored a goal as centre forward in the 2007 Champions League final for Liverpool and, remarkably, has only failed to break double figures twice in the last 18 seasons. But his finest hour was here, as left wing-back.
Prior to this tournament, he had never played a defensive role. Maybe van Gaal wanted experience in a backline made up of younger players, or recognised that Kuyt’s attempts to control a football were practically long-distance clearances anyway. Or perhaps, as one Liverpool supporter’s banner put it, he did so because ‘Dirk Kuyt works hard’. Whatever the reason, it worked.
Kuyt began on the right of the rearguard, but after half-time was moved to the left — right opposite Messi. At the time it felt a bit like when you used to tell the fattest kid in your year to mark the lad who sometimes played for Blackburn’s under-15s. Yet, no matter how many times he tried, the Argentine could not find a way through. Dirk made thirteen tackles and ran more than any of his teammates.
As the match went to extra time, you assumed that Kuyt’s aging legs would surely succumb to Messi’s ludicrous ability at some stage; that Kuyt’s soft pink legs would atrophy and buckle like an old tree. But after thirty-eight forward runs in two whole hours of football, Messi could not manage a single touch in the Dutch penalty area. No matter what he tried, one man stood in his way – Dirk. Dirk — with his face rendered a biologically impossible shade of red by the Brazilian humidity. Dirk — with his left foot about as useful as Heather Mills’. Dirk — working hard.
He may well have looked like a melted mannequin by the time the penalty shoot-out rolled around, but, with the score at 3-1 in favour of Argentina and with no margin for error, up stepped Degsy to coolly send the goalkeeper Sergio Romero the wrong way. It was beautiful. It was never in doubt.
Alas, next up was Maxi Rodríguez, who crashed his effort past Jasper Cillessen and sealed a place in the final for Argentina.
Granted the game is probably more memorable for Javier Mascherano’s block to stop Arjen Robben’s certain goal in which the Barcelona man ripped his arsehole to bits. Fair enough, mate. But let’s be clear, Kuyt’s effort in strangling the ability out of the indisputably most talented little bloke to ever play the game far usurps that or any other performance as the greatest commitment to defending you, I, yer Da, or any of our grandchildren will ever see on a football pitch.
Now, there are people out there who will scoff at praise for such a performance. “Fuck off,” they’ll retort. “Why are you made up that some aged yard dog has managed to kick the world’s best player out of the game on the world’s biggest stage? It would have been well better if Messi had rainbow-flicked it round Kuyt, done an elastico chop to beat Ron Vlaar, and then chipped the ball over the on-rushing Cillessen with a rabona.” Those insipid gobshites are wrong and should stick to FIFA Street on PS2 and wanking over futsal highlight compilations.
For while Messi’s gifts will cement themselves in the annals of history, we should salute the dedication of those not so gifted. Players who work hard - dead hard - and whose dedication to snide is undaunted on the biggest stage of all. Mascherano tore his own anus to shreds in dedication that fine, hot day and I don’t care. Dirk’s will to win will live on forever.
WORDS: Daniel AustinILLUSTRATION: The Planktn