Van Nistelrooy get chance to shine

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy heads into the Euro 2004 tournament with good form, as the team's preferred striker and as its public face.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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Call it a strange coincidence or a perfect alignment of stars above the cloudy Dutch skies that strikers Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert were born on the same day, July 1, 1976. While both hope to celebrate their 28th birthday with a victory for the Netherlands at the European Championships, it is Van Nistelrooy that heads into the tournament with better form, as the team's preferred striker and as its public face. By another quirk of fate, it's also his tournament debut. While Kluivert was born in Amsterdam, shot to fame at Ajax and became the Netherlands' all-time leading scorer with 40 goals, Van Nistelrooy was born in the southern town of Oss and travelled a much longer road. He was still rising through the Dutch leagues when Kluivert started his first tournament, Euro 1996, and Van Nistelrooy wasn't summoned from PSV Eindhoven for the 1998 World Cup. He missed Euro 2000 with an injury and though he was established as a major star at Manchester United in time for the 2002 World Cup, the Dutch failed to qualify. Finally, Van Nistelrooy's perseverance appears set to pay off. He finished this season with 30 club goals, including two in the final match, Manchester's FA Cup victory. Kluivert, by contrast, has been frustrated by uneasy relations with Barcelona's fans and a knee injury, scoring just eight times for his club. Choosing between the two is a nightmare and a delight for any coach. They both have averaged one goal per two international games. Kluivert is bigger physically and is better in the air. Van Nistelrooy is the distilled essence of determination and the will to win. A typifying moment came during the Netherlands' 3-1 qualifying loss to the Czech Republic, which brought the team's campaign to the brink of disaster. When Edgar Davids was sent off in the opening minutes, Van Nistelrooy ran himself ragged for over an hour trying desperately, almost insanely, to compensate for the missing man. When he was pulled from the losing battle in the final minutes, he kicked over a water bottle in frustration and screamed abuse at the coach, calling him a "coward" for what he saw as abandoning the fight. His definitive breakthrough finally came in the 6-0 dismantling of Scotland in qualifying playoffs. With Kluivert injured, Van Nistelrooy started and scored a hatrick, joy pouring off his face each time. "I exploded in that match, emotionally as well as physically," he said afterward. He believes deeply that the Dutch can win the tournament. "If we can just combine the right drive with our creative and technical abilities, if we can just bring that, we can be champions," he said. (AP)