RIO DE JANEIRO: Wesley Sneijder will mark a major milestone when he wins his 100th international cap in their opening World Cup Group B game on Friday but his return to the heartbeat of the Netherlands team was in doubt 12 months ago.
The dashing midfielder was stripped of the captaincy and then lost his place after coach Louis van Gaal deemed him not physically fit enough to play.
But Sneijder, who turned 30 on Monday, has won over the coach again and is now enjoying a leading role in a new Dutch tactical formation, playing as provider for forwards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.
Van Persie is now captain but Sneijder said he remains "a leader" in the team.
"Everything that was said about me in the past is forgotten. Also the question of the captaincy. I’m looking only forward," he told reporters on Wednesday.
Van Gaal had openly questioned his future international career during the closing stages of the qualifying campaign last year but was quick to admit in the weeks leading up to the tournament in Brazil that Sneijder had been among the fittest and sharpest players in training and was very much back in the side.
It has left Sneijder brimming with confidence as the first game against Spain approaches.
"Of course we can win. We’ve shown that if we get it right at the critical moments we can be lethal," he said.
"Almost all the goals we scored in the warm-up matches were swift created; either winning quick ball or using midfield possession to make the deep pass. Then we can be deadly. “A week full of milestones but it won’t mean anything if we don’t beat Spain on Friday,” Sneijder reflected before the Dutch left their Rio de Janeiro base.
"When I was 21 or 22 I used to think footballers of 30 were old. They were close to fishing their careers. That happens but there is no way I’m stopping just yet. You think this is my last tournament? Are you crazy? You won’t get rid of me over the next four years,” he joked with journalists.