Durban: Netherlands striker Robin van Persie’s petulant reaction to his substitution in their World Cup second-round victory on Monday could be the first hairline crack in the united front so far presented by the squad.
Van Persie reacted angrily when he was replaced by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 10 minutes before the end of the 2-1 win over Slovakia which set up a quarter-final meeting with Brazil.
The forward came off the pitch and remonstrated with coach Bert van Marwijk and then took no part in the Dutch celebrations of Wesley Sneijder’s late goal that doubled their lead.
“What I said to Van Marwijk was not over the top,” Van Persie, who has scored just once in four games, told reporters.
“I just want to be important to the team and score. I wanted to stay on as we would have had more space with Slovakia chasing an equaliser, and I felt that I could profit from that.
“I have hardly scored and that was gnawing at me, although I played well.”
Van Persie said his reaction had nothing to do with pressure, did not influence other players, and the way he responded to such situations sometimes annoyed even him.
While Van Marwijk said he was not angry with Van Persie and that he understood his disappointment, Dutch media reports said the coach called the squad together when they returned to their hotel in Johannesburg to clear the air.
Van Persie’s outburst was in stark contrast to how Dirk Kuyt handled his move to the left flank to make way for Arjen Robben’s return on the right for the last 16 match.
Kuyt filled his role without complaint and six minutes from time, when put through by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, spurned a chance to shoot so he could set up Sneijder to settle the game.
“I spoke with Gio before the match about some little things and just needed a quick glance at him to know what he was going to do,” Kuyt told Reuters.
“I saw the goalkeeper coming out and, when I got past him, I saw two defenders on their way back to protect the goal. Then you know there will be space for an incoming midfielder at the 16-metre line.”
Despite their first win in the knockout phase of a major tournament since beating Sweden on penalties in the Euro 2004 quarter-finals, Kuyt conceded they had a sloppy phase after Robben’s opening goal.
Carelessness in their passing game had forced them back, he said, while they also gave away more chances to the Slovaks than they had to previous opponents.
“But we replied with our chances and the second goal and that is also our quality, in every situation we always keep creating our own chances,” he added.
Netherlands face Brazil in the last eight on Friday in Port Elizabeth.