He hasn’t made too many of those “five young players to watch at the World Cup” lists, but that didn’t stop Dutch winger Eljero Elia – in his 30 minute cameo on Monday – from briefly setting the tournament alight with some breathtaking skills and thrills. Coming on as a substitute for the listless (and, IMHO, overrated) Rafael Van Der Vaart at around the 60 minute mark, the 23-year-old winger who plies his trade with Hamburg in the German Bundesliga immediately skinned the Danish fullback Jakobsen with a tricky 180-degree turn and drag-back, and then did the same again a few minutes later. Both times, he created goal chances. His movement and pace brought a new dimension to the struggling Dutch, and his smart running allowed Sneijder to play him in to set up the goal that made the game safe for Holland: Bearing down on the keeper, Elia opened his body and shot across the face of the goal — although keeper Sorensen got a finger tip to the shot, he only managed to push it onto a post, from where it bounced into the path of Liverpool grafter Dirk Kuyt to score the sort of tap-in that is his specialty.
Here’s some poor quality video of Elia terrorizing the Danes:
The youngster made a compelling case for a starting berth with Holland, whose 4-2-3-1 formation requires two sprightly wingers to play alongside Sneijder behind Van Persie. Today, Kuyt and Van Der Vaart filled those roles, and while Kuyt’s work rate makes a case for his inclusion (he more than once doubled as a defender), Elia outshone Van Der Vaart. Of course, when Arjen Robben, the left footed flyer who likes to play on the right so that he can cut inside and pull the ball onto his stronger shooting foot (which is usually on the weaker foot of the opposing left back), Kuyt may have to give way, or be moved to the left. (And the Dutch are not short of young flyers, there’s also Ibrahim Affelay, and Liverpool’s Ryan Babel.) But Elia’s claim to a starting place is likely to grow.
Elia has already been in the headlines, of course, with his use of an epithet deemed to be offensive to Moroccans — but which he insisted was directed at a Moroccan buddy who calls Elia “negro” — prompting the Dutch team to ban its players from tweeting. Which is a pity for those of us with a basic understanding of Dutch, who were rather enjoying the trash-talking tweets of Ryan Babel and Gregory Van Der Wiel. And then there was the live streaming video from atop the video game console in Babel’s room, which offered a glimpse of what a bunch of overpaid young athletes in their prime get up to when sequestered in their hotel rooms for the duration of six-week World Cup campaign. (They play a lot of video games, and trash talk one another…)
Still, it’s a safe bet that by the end of South Africa 2010, Eljero Elia will be remembered for a lot more than being the man whose trash-talking got the Dutch players banned from Twittering.