Klaas Jan Huntelaar — Top scorer for the Netherlands in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, the former terror of Eredivisie defences is still pursuing greater recognition for his talents overseas. The AC Milan marksman has yet to enjoy a defining moment in a major competition and remains slightly tainted by a brief and frustrating spell with Real Madrid. A regular starter and primary outlet for a Netherlands side looking for a more balanced attack, Huntelaar will be making the trip to South Africa desperate to justify his sometimes flattering reputation on the biggest stage of all.
Polite, affable, always smiling and happy to talk with both supporters and journalists, the 26-year-old is a model footballer away from the pitch. On it, he was a fan favourite at Ajax for three-and-a-half seasons, with his baby face helping to make him a veritable star in Amsterdam, despite his early years spent with rivals PSV Eindhoven. The Drempt native never really made the grade as a youngster at the Philips Stadion, though, and that failure still rankles with him as he revealed in a fascinating interview with FIFA.com two years ago. Loaned out by PSV to De Graafschap in a move that sent him back to his very first club, Huntelaar eventually began making people notice his ability at Heerenveen in 2004/05, a year after he finished leading scorer in the Dutch second division with AGOVV.
“For me, between 25 and 30 goals in this championship is a good season, but nothing exceptional,” he explained to FIFA.com while at Ajax in 2007. “Over 35 goals – well, that’s an extraordinary season.” Even given the extra space forwards seem to enjoy in the Eredivisie, where the most prolific striker races past the 25-goal mark each year, Huntelaar’s figures with Ajax remain simply astounding. Having struck 76 goals in 92 matches, he was the most consistent striker in the Dutch elite over the last decade, and inevitably began awakening the interest of some of Europe’s most illustrious outfits. Manchester United and Arsenal were among the clubs following him closely, but ultimately Huntelaar opted for Spain and Real Madrid.
It was a slightly surprising choice for a player who had claimed to be awaiting the perfect opportunity to take his skills abroad. Parachuted into a team then lacking an obvious identity and with plenty of pressure automatically heaped on his shoulders, Huntelaar failed to shine in the Spanish capital, despite eight strikes in 20 outings. Unable to fit in on the pitch or in the dressing room, his first stint at a leading club had to go down as a disappointment, so it must have been a relief that his second followed immediately afterwards. Snapped up by Serie A giants Milan, the forward enjoyed more playing time than he had been granted in La Liga, yet he again struggled to rediscover the consistency he had displayed with Ajax. The possibility of a move to Stuttgart was mooted, but Huntelaar decided to remain in Italy to prove he has the requisite talent to prosper in a top-level championship.
Handed his first international cap in 2006, Huntelaar marked his debut performance with a pair of goals as the Netherlands defeated the Republic of Ireland 4-0 in Dublin. Before that, he racked up an impressive number of strikes over a two-year stretch with the Under-21s and finished top scorer at the 2006 UEFA European U-21 Championship, the same year that he topped the Eredivisie goals table for the first time.
With the retirement of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Huntelaar became new Dutch national team coach Bert van Marwijk’s first choice striker for the FIFA World Cup 2010 qualification match against Iceland in October 2008, and scored in a 2–0 victory. Huntelaar has since taken his goalscoring record at international level to 14 goals in 25 appearances for the Dutch senior team. Huntelaar was included in the preliminary squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. On 27 May 2010, Netherlands manager Bert van Marwijk announced that the player would be part of the final squad of 23 participating in the competition. He came on in Holland’s second game of the tournament against Japan in a 1-0 win and earned his 33rd international cap, while Wesley Sneijder’s second half goal in the 53rd minute gave the Dutch victory at the Durban Stadium. On 24 June 2010, Hunterlaar received his 34th cap, when he replaced goalscorer Robin Van Persie in the 58th minute against Cameroon in the Green Point Stadium, in Cape Town and scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute in a 2-1 win.