x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Coach fights to keep Holland harmonious

Dutch squabbling rears its head again as Van Marwijk moves quick to defuse Van Persie outburst ahead of match with Brazil.

Bert van Marwijk, right, the Holland coach, tries to calm Robin van Persie down after the Dutch striker was substituted against Slovakia.
Bert van Marwijk, right, the Holland coach, tries to calm Robin van Persie down after the Dutch striker was substituted against Slovakia.

Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach, has drawn a line under a potential feud in the camp after calling a team meeting to address Robin van Persie's angry reaction to being substituted in the 2-1 win over Slovakia on Monday. Van Marwijk spoke to national broadcaster NOS after Dutch media reported that the striker said Wesley Sneijder, the midfielder, should have been brought off in the last-16 match instead of him.

The dispute is the first to erupt in the Dutch camp at the World Cup and comes just days before they take on Brazil in the quarter-finals. "I will never accept anything that could upset the next match," Van Marwijk said. "I spoke to Robin and he is supposed to have said something about Wesley. I've spoken to Wesley and after that I called the team together ... told them what I think and then drew a line under it."

Previous Dutch campaigns have often been derailed by infighting, but the team have appeared unified in South Africa. "I've always said I don't mind if something happens - that can make you stronger - but I don't like to leave problems dangling," Van Marwijk said. "It's over. For everybody." For his part, Van Persie said his anger was partly aimed at himself for missing so many chances at the World Cup.

The Arsenal forward was a contender to be one of the tournament's leading scorers but has only managed one goal in four matches in South Africa. "I wanted to finish the game. I thought they would take risks in the last 10 minutes and I wanted to exploit that," Van Persie said. "I could see spaces opening up and I wanted to use them, so I was a bit shocked when I had to go off." Van Persie is convinced he will rediscover his goalscoring touch and that playing for Arsenal has taught him to persevere.

"I am not scoring and that eats away at me - at every striker, I think," Van Persie said. "I've had a few small chances. I just want to score. "One thing I learned in England is that you can miss chances or have a bad first touch, but as a striker there will always be another chance." Van Persie only returned to international football last month after a six-month layoff because of a right ankle injury he suffered against Italy in November.

But his scoring touch appeared to have survived the break as he hit four goals in three warm-up games before the World Cup to raise hopes of a prolific tournament for the Oranje frontman. Instead he has misfired in South Africa, despite heading an attack that also includes Arjen Robben, Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt. Robben, a goalscorer in the win over Slovakia, defended Van Persie and his anger at the substitution.

"It's difficult for Robin to get free," Robben said. "You are tightly marked at a World Cup, we shouldn't make a big deal out of it." Van Marwijk, meanwhile, feels his side will be the underdogs for Friday's mouth-watering encounter against Brazil, the five-time world champions. "Against Brazil, perhaps we might be the underdogs for the first time in South Africa," he said. "But we are here for one reason, to get the big prize.

"We have to believe in it. People might have laughed at us when we said we were capable of winning the World Cup. "But you have to show a real mentality, a constant focus. I think we are showing that." Dunga, the Brazil coach, knows that things will start to get serious against Holland after a relatively easy path to the quarter-finals, culminating with a 3-0 last-16 victory over South American rivals Chile on Monday night.

"We know Holland are a very difficult team to play against," Dunga said. "Their football is actually very similar to South American football. They don't try to stay defending and rely on long balls. They have technical quality and we will need to be ready for that. It's a solid team." "It's a world football classic," added Robinho, the forward who scored his first World Cup goal in the match against Chile. "It's going to be like a final."

* AP