ENG - ORANJE
It’s the 6th of October 2001, and in the 67th minute of the World Cup European Qualification match between Netherlands and Andorra, manager Louis van Gaal gives 18-year-old Rafael Ferdinand van der Vaart his senior team debut for Oranje. The Dutch would eventually win that game 4-0, and the world would catch a glimpse of one of Holland’s football prodigies in the famous orange.
As a kid I always wanted to play for the national team. Exactly 17 years ago, that dream came true. I made my debut at 18 years old. One week from now, I’ll say goodbye to @OnsOranje. I look a bit older😉 but I’m also very proud & honoured. See you in Amsterdam next Saturday! pic.twitter.com/qORw2L3RRB— Rafael van der Vaart (@rafvdvaart) October 6, 2018
Rafa’s senior team debut was by no means a matter of luck. From the age of 10 when he joined AFC Ajax’s famed youth academy, young Rafa’s scintillating form at every age and stage helped him progress steadily into the Ajax senior team at a tender 17. As he started weaving his magic for in the Eredivisie, a whisper started spreading among the Amsterdam club’s diehard fans about Ajax having found ‘the new Johan Cruijff’. Rafa’s massive impact on club level led to the inevitable call-up to the Dutch national team.
Rafa’s international CV started with the Netherlands U17 team, then the U19 team for whom he made 8 appearances and scored 2 goals. He was one of the young Dutch stars at the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina. He soon moved up to the U21 team, scoring 2 goals in 4 appearances.
His unveiling as a senior Dutch national player felt like manifest destiny for Rafa considering his scorching form for Ajax and the junior international Oranje squads. In fact, his consistent brilliance for club and country would lead him to pick up the first ever Golden Boy prize in 2003 at the age of 22.
Despite his underwhelming final match for Oranje on Nov 19, 2013 in the 0-0 draw against Colombia, Rafa cemented his legacy in Dutch national football with 109 appearances for his country which included three Euro Championships (in 2004, 2008 and 2012) and two World Cups in 2006 and 2010. Along the way, he hit the back of the net 25 times for Oranje, including some typically astounding Rafa goals.