JOHANNESBURG - Giovanni van Bronckhorst is hoping for a fairytale ending to his playing career when he leads Netherlands out in Sunday's World Cup final with Spain.
The 35-year-old left-back will come up against several friends in the Spanish side after having his best spell during the period he spent with Barcelona from 2003 to 2007.
Captain 'Gio' has scored six goals in 105 internationals, although his first and last are the most memorable.
He opened the scoring in the semi-final against Uruguay with a superb 35-metre drive, arguably the goal of the tournament. His first strike for his country came at the venue of Sunday's final, known in those days as the First National Bank Stadium.
On June 4 1997 in his fifth international, a friendly with South Africa, Van Bronckhorst scored after eight minutes.
"That goal was exactly like the goal I scored against Uruguay but more memorable about that match was the meeting with Nelson Mandela," he told reporters.
Van Bronckhorst, a product of Feyenoord's youth system, started his professional career in 1993 and moved abroad five years later having spells at Rangers and then Arsenal.
Schooled as an attacking left-sided midfielder, he played left-back for the first time at Arsenal but after Frank Rijkaard signed him for Barcelona he developed into a wing-back.
Together with Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, he embroidered the left flank in the Barca side that won the 2006 Champions League with victory over his former team Arsenal.
Van Bronckhorst was the only Barcelona player to feature in all 13 Champions League matches during that campaign.
A year later Bert van Marwijk, starting his second spell at Feyenoord, persuaded him to return to Rotterdam and in the final match that season, just before the coach left to take over the national team, Van Bronckhorst lifted the Dutch cup.
Van Bronckhorst's international debut was against Brazil in 1996 and he was a member of the 1998 World Cup squad although he did not play at the finals under coach Guus Hiddink.
He has since featured in every tournament the Dutch have qualified for and was praised for his form at Euro 2008 where he scored the third goal against Italy after setting up the second by clearing off the line before breaking down the left flank.comments