Robin Van Persie, and Holland, feeling good
Netherlands finishes off perfect opening round, now come crunch games...
18 June 2008-06-18
SWITZERLAND - Robin van Persie has come to symbolise the spirit of the Netherlands at the European Championship. The timing of his return to fitness is perfect, his moves are getting better, and he scores.
In all, he has that sense that, really, nothing can go wrong.
"It is in my gut. I feel it and it really is going to happen," the Arsenal winger said after he scored his second goal in as many games to cap a 2-0 win with a "B" team over Romania, which gave the Netherlands a perfect nine points in by far the toughest opening group.
From now on though, it's do-or-die.
"We are centering now with the quarters and later, hopefully, one or two more games," said Coach Marco van Basten, whose team will face either Russia or Sweden on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
On Wednesday, the sun was finally full blast on the Stade Olympique, with a relaxed scrimmage on one side, and massages on the other to get the fatigue of Tuesday's' match out. No one was injured, another indication how Oranje has hit the groove over the past two weeks.
Van Persie knows the feeling.
Up to the opening game, he had not started a match in two months, and was struggling to recover from a thigh injury. All knew the 24-year-old winger had the talent and versatility, and Van Basten took the risk to take an injury liability to Euro 2008. He only took him because he knew Van Persie had that "extra surplus" in him.
And he delivered in each of the three games. When the Dutch were in trouble against the pressing Italians and defending a slim lead, Van Persie came on and, with his speed, immediately stretched the defence on the way to the opening 3-0 victory.
He did one better in the second game. A second-half substitute against the French, he finished off a perfect, sweeping counter to get his first goal in a 4-1 win. And on Tuesday, he was ready for the first time since an Arsenal home game against Reading in the Premier League on April 19 to play the full 90 minutes.
He used them to the fullest, waiting until the 87th minute to latch on to a deep ball, wrestle himself free from a defender and beat Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont on a tight angle for the second goal.
"The coach asked me after 80 minutes how it went and I said, 'OK, I want to finish the 90 minutes. It's been a while,"' Van Persie said, adding he felt all eyes were on him again. "It was like an exam. I felt seriously nervous to play a full game."
Van Basten, too, is happy his injury gamble is paying off so handsomely.
"Finally he played 90 minutes," the coach said. "He worked hard and after hard work it was his reward with a nice goal. In the end everybody was happy."
Another boon is Van Persie's versatility and willingness to adapt.
"I played for years the No. 10 position at Arsenal and that is my position," Van Persie said. "But I can play on the right, too, and as a forward. I trust the coach to make the right choice.
"I truly have the feeling something very beautiful is about to happen," he said.
By Raf Casert