Netherlands striker Robin van Persie was expected to score loads of goals in South Africa, but so far it is teammate Wesley Sneijder who has been finding the back of the net.
Van Persie has netted once, against Cameroon in a group game, in the six matches he has started, while Sneijder is joint top scorer with five.
Last season, the Arsenal striker suffered an ankle injury, which sidelined him for over five months, and he only returned to action just weeks to the World Cup kick-off.
He still prowls in front of the net, and draws defenders to himself by standing in passing lanes, but then holds the ball and passes it around the edge of the penalty area to Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben and Sneijder.
Netherlands coach, Bert van Marwijk, has backed his 26-year-striker despite his lack of goals. “Robin is extremely talented. He is one of the best football players on this planet,” he said.
“He was injured for a very long time and you do need a certain rhythm. Sometimes it comes just like that. Sometimes it takes a bit longer,” the coach said.
In the epic quarterfinal against Brazil, van Persie was shadowed by Dani Alves but overall he proved to be the perfect foil for man of the match Sneijder.
And against Uruguay in Tuesday night’s semi-final, he worked hard as the lone ranger upfront. He was closely marked by the robust South Americans, but did well to go past his markers on a couple of occasions to set up chances for Robben and Rafael van der Vaart.
It appears that while other high-profile stars, particularly those featuring in the English Premier League, struggled to make their mark at South Africa 2010, van Persie may well have retained his freshness thanks to his long injury lay-off.
“I feel very, very fresh. I know some of the boys have been tired with the travelling and stuff, but I don’t mind waiting around for two hours or staying in a hotel a long time because I’m back with the team,” he said.
“Physically and even mentally, there’s more to come. You can be very tired when you start a tournament after playing 60 or 70 games in a season, but I’ve not played that many games and I’m ready physically and mentally. It’s looking good.”
The Netherlands have produced some of the best players in the world, from the mercurial Johan Cryuff to Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. But none of these all-time greats has tasted what it is like to win the World Cup.
Van Persie and his colleagues are now on the verge of getting the result that this small European country has craved for over several decades.
Coach Van Marwijk has proclaimed that his team’s target is to win the World Cup after being beaten finalists on two previous occasions, in 1974 and 1978.
“When I signed the contract at the KNVB (Dutch federation), I had a mission: to become world champion. It has been 32 years now (since the Dutch last appearance in a World Cup final). This little country can be proud of this!” declared van Marwijk.
And who knows whether van Persie could be the man to save his best for last on Sunday night when the Dutch play the final at Soccer City in Johannesburg?
Keywords: 2010 FIFA World Cup