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Born in Maastricht, Netherlands on 15 August 1974, Boudewijn Zenden was a Barça player between 1998 and 2001 as well winning 54 caps for his country, scoring seven goals in the process. Four of those caps came in the 1998 World Cup in France where a 23 year old Zenden helped the 'Oranje' to fourth place in the tournament. We spoke to him about his World Cup experience.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is almost upon us and 24 years ago you played in the 1998 tournament in France. What do you remember about that World Cup?
It was my first big tournament. Later I would play in two European Championships but that World Cup was my first important date with the national side. I was one of the youngest in the squad and that World Cup is one of my best memories. We had a great team, a squad capable of winning the World Cup. As in all tournament, you get better as it goes on and we were better in each game.
That famous penalty shoot out against Brazil...
We got through each round and faced Brazil in the semi-finals and I was in the starting XI. It was a draw after 90 minutes and in the end we lost on penalties. It was real disappointment because we really though we could win that World Cup.
Would you have taken a penalty if you had still been on the field?
Maybe. But you never know.
The third and fourth place play off; a bitter sweet goodbye.
After getting knocked out, playing in the third and fourth place play off was too tough for lots of us. You always want to win but it was difficult. As well, we were playing against Croatia who felt to finish third or fourth was spectacular and they were more motivated. They beat us 2-1 but the pleasant memory I have is that I scored our goal in that game.
That happens a lot in football, you have memories which are painful and nice at the same time. It happened to me at Liverpool as well in the 2007 Champions League final against AC Milan. We lost 2-1 but in part you can always say that you played in the Champions League final and that is something positive. However, if you lose you always are left with a bad taste in your mouth. That happened to me in the 1998 World Cup. Nevertheless, it is a great memory as it was a brilliant tournament. The Dutch fans were spectacular and it was one big party."
I scored a bitter sweet goal in the third and fourth place play off“ Boudewijn Zenden
That squad was full of great players, 11 of which had a Barça connection: Reiziger, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Kluivert, Cocu, Overmars, Bogarde, Davids, Van Bronckhorst, Hesp and yourself. What was the relationship like?
We had a great squad. Almost all the players were at top clubs, Juventus, Manchester United, Barça...almost every starter was playing for a Champions League winning candidate. It was a great group of player and there were no problems at all during all the time together.
In the dressing room full of stars, the leaders were those veterans with great experience like captain Frank de Boer and Bergkamp and Davids amongst others.
What was the build up like with the squad?
That year there was a lot of security but also we were allowed a lot of freedom. These days it's different; then we could leave the hotel easily, go for a walk or go to the Beach Clubs in Monaco where we spent almost three weeks together. Now, you practically can't even leave your room, but to have that chance is great for bringing the squad together. Now it's more difficult for security reasons, social media and the like. That was a positive thing for us.
Any particular memory of the stay in Monaco?
I remember I was sharing a room with Jaap Stam...I could sleep calmly with him next to me! We both played for PSV at the time and then later he went to Manchester United and I went to Barça.
A lot of things happened and there are quite a few stories from the time we spent together but I especially remember the day when we had some free time and we went to a Beach Club in Monaco and we hired some jetskis. Two team mates had a collision and of the jetskis ended up in bad shape but fortunately nothing happened to the two players.
Which was the most special moment at the World Cup?
My most special moment - and the feelings it brought about - was when I was in the starting XI for the semi-final against Brazil. To be in the team, listening to the national anthem; you look around and you see half the stadium in orange, with all the fans cheering us on, the rest, yellow for Brazil, it was an unforgettable moment.
The best moment was being in the starting XI for the semi-final against Brazil“ Boudewijn Zenden
Let's go back to the present, 24 years on. Another World Cup is here with 16 Barça players called up by their national teams. Two, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis are with the Dutch team coached by Louis van Gaal, the Barça boss when you were at the Club. What are your thoughts?
I think there are clearly other teams who have more individual talent then the Netherlands but like Van Gaal has said, the favourites don't always win the World Cup., What matters is that you have a squad that battles as a team, as friends.
Van Gaal thinks they have a chance to win it but everything will be depend on the players' form. You have to be honest as well and Memphis is just coming back from injury, Van Dijk is not at his best and some of the Ajax players are also out of form...but when you put on that 'Oranje' shirt and play as a team, anything can happen.
As a coach you know Louis van Gaal well but in the 1998 World Cup the coach was Guus Hiddink. What are the similarities and differences?
They are very different. Both have coached in Spain but they have very different styles, each one wanting their team to play as well as possible. Van Gaal, in 2014, was the one who said that with a 4-3-3 we would not get to where we wanted to be and played with a 5-3-2 formation, three centre backs and two wing backs. I think in this World Cup he will do the same. Dumfries is important on the right hand side but it seems he might be injured; all coaches have problems with injury. Senegal with Mané, England with Maddison...we will have a better idea when the teams get out there on the field; right now it is hard to say.
It is a very unusual World Cup, in the middle of the season. Are there favourites?
Normally, before the World Cup, you have three or four weeks of preparation and friendlies. Now, nothing; you go from playing in the league to the World Cup in a week. We will have to wait to see who gets out on the field because, for example, France have a great team but they have important players injured like Kimpembe, Kanté, Pogba...I have my doubts. Germany are always strong in tournaments then you have Brazil and Argentina. The latter have injuries and Brazil have the most balanced squad with great players in every position. We will see.
What do you think of the other blaugranes at the World Cup?
Barça have great players and for that reason a lot of internationals at the World Cup who will get through the group phase. I would like to see Lewandowski as top scorer but to do that he will have to get out of the group with Poland and it will not be easy. The top score will come from one of teams who go far in the tournament.
I always like to see the young players at the tournament, people like Gavi and Pedri with Spain. It will be good to see them playing matches in the World Cup for the experience they will game for the team.
After the semi-finals in 1998, Netherlands came close again in 2010 in the final against a Spain side full of blaugranes. How was that for you?
I remember that I was very nervous ahead of the final. My brother in law, John Heitinga, was sent off when Netherlands were playing well but with 10 players it was tough. Spain knew how to keep the ball and conceding a goal in extra time is always tough. We tried to hang on for penalties and then there was a chance for Robben on the counter but Casillas got a foot to it. At that moment, had we gone 1-0 up, we win that final; moments like that can decide a World Cup.
What projects are you working on now?
Until last July was with the PSV B team as a strikers' coach. The Club wanted me to stay in the youth set up but I decided not to. Nevertheless, I still have a good relationship with them and the Club and a few weeks ago I travelled with them but I don't have an official role. My son plays in the youth teams at PSV and at the moment I am working as an analyst on TV.
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