Euro 2012: Huntelaar vs Van Persie for Dutch striker role
Krakow, Poland: As one of the world`s most lethal center forwards, Klaas Jan Huntelaar always takes a straight line toward goal. So when faced with the question of who would be the star of the European Championship, he immediately retorted, "Of course, Huntelaar."
If he can get the coveted striker`s spot in the Netherlands starting lineup, that is.
With only days before the Group B opener against Denmark on Saturday, it looks destined for Robin van Persie.
Despite being given the center forward`s trademark No. 9 shirt, and being the top scorer of the qualifying tournament with 12 goals, it might not be enough for Huntelaar. He was the top scorer in the Bundesliga, but Van Persie matched that in the English Premier League.
Both are among the toughest leagues around, as the finalists in this year`s Champions League, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, proved.
Look around the other 15 teams at Euro 2012 and the Dutch might well have the two best strikers around.
Poland has Robert Lewandowski, but the Dortmund striker came up short against Huntelaar in the Bundesliga. Spain is without David Villa, who is still recovering from a broken leg. Even Sweden striker Zlatan Imbrahimovic hasn`t had the standout season he`s been used to. And Cristiano Ronaldo dazzles with his skills too much on the wings to be considered a center forward for Portugal.
What should be a luxury for the Dutch could still turn into a divisive issue. Just about every one of the 16.7 million fans in the Netherlands has a clear opinion on the issue, but within the team, all players refer to the coach.
"It`s hard for me to say. It is not my job," Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart said. "In the last two friendlies, Van Persie played."
And on both occasions, the Dutch won.
"It is always good to have somebody on the bench with a good quality," Van der Vaart added.
When Huntelaar started at center forward against Bulgaria in the first preparation game, the Dutch lost 2-1.
But even though both have been equally prolific for their clubs this season, they could hardly be more different as strikers.
Van Persie harks back to the smoothness and fluidity of Dennis Bergkamp and Johan Cruyff. At his best, as he did for Arsenal this year, he can turn a game with a moment of brilliance as much as beauty. With 30 goals, he beat Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney for the top-scoring title. He was also named player of the season by his peers in the Premier League.
For the Dutch, though, Van Persie has yet to excel like the true Dutch greats at a major tournament and he is starting his fourth now. Even when Oranje reached the final in South Africa two years ago, there was criticism of his performance.
Instead, Huntelaar has not really had the chance yet to prove himself.
While Van Persie personifies beauty on the pitch, Huntelaar counts by goals only. He can never be blamed for lack of effort.
He knocked himself out cold against England early this year while heading in a spectacular goal at Wembley. Teammates had to pluck grass out of his open mouth.
In the past, Van Marwijk has leaned toward Van Persie, hoping that beyond his instinct for goals, he will add that dash of creative brilliance. But with 29 goals in the Bundesliga, Huntelaar also feels his time has come.
"I`ve said enough about it," Huntelaar said.