- Associated Press - Friday, July 9, 2010

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Arjen Robben doesn’t really care how the Netherlands beats Spain on Sunday as long as he can lift the trophy.

“I’d rather play an extremely ugly game and win, instead of a beautiful one and lose,” Robben said.

Winning ugly is fine, especially after what happened on June 5.

In a warm-up match against Hungary, he tried a delicate back-heel flick, a flash of flair for which the Dutch are famous. He flinched in pain and fell to the ground with a left hamstring injury.

Suddenly it seemed the Netherlands had lost one of its best players less than a week ahead of the World Cup opener. Tender hamstrings are notoriously difficult to recover from in a short span.

“If you would have told me then what would happen here, I simply would not have believed it,” Robben said heading to the final.

The Dutch squad even left for South Africa without him because medical tests still needed to show he was fit to play.

On Friday, just over a month later, he was nominated for the World Cup Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament. This despite starting in only three of the six Dutch games and playing only 267 of a possible 540 minutes. He completed his first full training session only three weeks ago.

Yet in less than half the possible playing time, he has become a star of the World Cup.

Without Robben, the Dutch forward line was in trouble as the team struggled despite getting early wins. Robben’s first touch of the ball came in the last group game against Cameroon in the 73rd minute.

It took him only 10 minutes to make a difference.

With his trademark move that also highlighted his season at Bayern Munich, he cut inside, beat defenders and curled a long-range drive that hit goalpost, allowing Klaas Jan Huntelaar to easily poke in the rebound.

The Netherlands won 2-1, and Robben’s World Cup was launched.

Robben was voted man of the match and scored his first goal in the second-round 2-1 win over Slovakia. His toughest challenge came against Brazil, when defenders Juan and Michel Bastos denied him the space to cut inside and move the ball to his left foot.

It was a momentary blip. Robben was essential again in Tuesday’s semifinal. Leaning far back to receive a cross from Dirk Kuyt, he still managed enough power and precision to head it into the low corner of the net in a 3-2 victory over Uruguay.

Robben is known for his left foot, not his headers.

“My hidden talents are perhaps starting to show,” he told the Dutch official supporters website.

He still is struggling with his hamstring.

“I am not yet at my peak, but that is because, every now and then, I still feel pain,” Robben said. “I can play, but it is just that I still play with pain.”

“It is getting better, but it has not been ideal.”

It has not stopped coach Bert van Marwijk from relying heavily on the winger. Robben is, after all, a born winner.

He already won league titles with PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea and Real Madrid before winning the Bundesliga title and German Cup with Bayern Munich this year. He also helped the German club to the Champions League final with a series of spectacular goals. The only blemish on a great season was the loss to Inter Milan in the final.

Robben does not want to lose a second final, and he now gladly embraces the win-at-all-cost mentality that the Dutch golden generation of Johan Cruyff in the 1970s rejected so vehemently.

The great Netherlands teams of the ‘70s reached two finals, losing both.

“In the past, we heard often enough how beautiful it was, but there was no payback. So far, it has produced,” Robben said of the Dutch “result football.”

“We have yet to show our most beautiful football. But we have always been able to fall back on a good organization.”

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