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Monday, June 23, 2008
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UEFA Euro 2008 Austria-Switzerland

Curtain falls on veterans

Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann relaxes at the team's hotel Il Giardino in Ascona on Saturday. Germany face Turkey in the Euro 2008 semifinal on Wednesday.Photo: AFP

Holland's elimination from Euro 2008 on Saturday by Russia looks certain to have brought down the international curtain on several of their older players - even if some have yet to admit it.

With a new coach Bert van Marwijk set to take over from Ajax bound Marco van Basten and their first match under his command not until August 20 against of all countries Russia, it gives several of them time to reflect and to see if they can absorb yet another disappointment and last another two years of World Cup qualifiers.

Their outstanding goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has already jumped, ending a 13 year career and 128 caps but which like for so many of the great and the good of Dutch football has yielded nothing in terms of silverware.

"I have experienced a really wonderful adventure," said the 37-year-old Manchester United guardian, who as compensation at least has two Champions League winners medals to his name.

"But this time it is finished. My decision is not up for debate," added van der Sar, whose excellent diplomatic skills will be sorely missed by the ever febrile Dutch.

Van der Sar - who says he will probably play on for one more season at club level - looks set to be replaced between the sticks by 25-year-old Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who played in the 2-0 win over Romania.

Ruud van Nistelrooy - who returned to the international fold after van der Sar smoothed things over with van Basten following a huge falling out at the 2006 World Cup - for one is not prepared to admit his days with the 'Oranje' are over even if he will turn 32 on Tuesday.

"I don't see any reason for me to stop now," said the Real Madrid star, who showed he still had what it took at this level with two goals including the equaliser against the Russians.

For former Barcelona, Rangers and Arsenal defender cum midfielder Giovanni van Bronckhorst the immediate aftermath of the defeat was no time to take hasty decisions, even though he and his fellow defenders were torn apart from a vibrant and young Russian side.

"I will have to assess this defeat by the Russians first," said the 33-year-old.

"Then I will take time to reflect on my future at international level," he added.

More likely to call it a day is Blackburn Rovers central defender Andre Ooijer, who will be 34 on July 11 and who was really exposed by Russian playmaker in chief Andrei Arshavin in the 3-1 reverse.

Whilst they may depart it is not as if 52-year-old van Maarwijk, who has coached notably Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and Feyenoord with whom he won the 2002 UEFA Cup, will have a bare cupboard in terms of personnel.

Both Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie may be fragile but they possess rare talents and allied to those of Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart are still only in their mid twenties.

Van Maarwijk will also probably be able to count on a truly top class defensive midfielder - something which when the pressure was turned on by the Russians was patently lacking in the duo of Nigel de Jong and Orlando Engelaar - in Marc van Bommel.

Van Bommel was one who refused to mend his fences with van Basten following the 2006 World Cup finals, but van Maarwijk has one huge factor in his favour - van Bommel is his son-in-law.

The immediate future of Euro 2008 may not be Oranje but as ever there is enough talent to give their devoted and longsuffering fans reason for optimism - though they will have to do it without another group of players who on several occasions carried the same hope into major finals only to leave with nothing.

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