N is for Netherlands
It has been strange to watch the action unfold at Russia 2018 without the vibrant contribution of the men in orange and their passionate army of fans.
All the more so given the Netherlands’ stellar history at the World Cup with the country being runners-up on three occasions since 1974, most latterly in 2010 when they were edged out 1-0 by Spain after extra time.
Former City favourite Nigel de Jong was one of the benchmarks of that Dutch side.
The midfielder made a huge contribution to the City cause after moving to the club from Hamburg in January of 2009, becoming a crucial cog in a powerful midfield unit.
During his three years at City, Nigel was a vital part of the side that won both the Premier League and FA Cup and further cemented his place as one of the key personnel in the Dutch international team.
And at the South Africa World Cup finals in 2010, de Jong and his Netherlands team-mates enjoyed a tremendous tournament, and though suspended for Holland’s semi-final win over Uruguay, he was restored to the starting line-up for the final against Spain.
The match has since gone down in folklore as the battle of Johannesburg with English referee Howard Webb issuing 14 yellow cards – a record for the final – and sending off Holland’s Johnny Heitinga for a second bookable offence.
Most famously of all, early in the game, de Jong made a chest-high challenge on Spain’s Xabi Alonso and was booked by Webb with the referee later revealing he would have sent the player off if he had had a better view of the incident.
A bad tempered final was ultimately decided by Andres Iniestia’s 116th minute winner.
Four years later, de Jong – by then playing in Italy with AC Milan – was again part of the Dutch World Cup squad, this time at the Brazil finals where the Netherlands reached the semi-final. But after starting all three group games, an injury in the last 16 win over Mexico led to the Dutch issuing a statement saying he would be unable to take part for the rest of the tournament.
However, de Jong did return and played 62 minutes of the semi-final clash with Argentina which, after a goalless draw, saw the South Americans secure a 4-2 win on penalties to book their place in the final against eventual champions Germany.