Van Persie Must Improve If the Netherlands Are to Beat Argentina

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

Netherlands' Robin van Persie bends over during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

In terms of entertainment, Argentina and the Netherlands must feel like a local pub band booked to follow the Beatles.

How could their semi-final on Wednesday possibly top or even go part of the way to matching the spectacle of Germany's utterly extraordinary dismantling of Brazil?

Of course, the game might be thrilling in its own way, but it will have to go some in order to rank anywhere near what came before it.

One of the things that might help that quest along is a brilliant individual performance from one of the teams' star men, the obvious candidates of course being Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

While all three have produced moments of brilliance in the World Cup so far, Van Persie has been curiously quiet in the Netherlands' two knockout games.

Against Mexico he was withdrawn for tactical reasons, and his retreat to the bench without anything close to complaint at least shows the regard in which he and the rest of the Dutch team hold Louis van Gaal.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

Against Costa Rica he was frankly awful, missing a few entirely presentable chances and being far too easily caught out by an admittedly well-planned offside trap.

One of the main reasons the Dutch could not break Costa Rica down was Van Persie's profligacy. Van Gaal had selected an attacking team, with Memphis Depay and Robben supporting Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder as part of a two-man midfield.

It was done in anticipation of Costa Rica putting nine men behind the ball and hoping for either a counter-attack, to get lucky or penalties.

That's exactly what happened, but the plan didn't work largely because his centre-forward threw away so many chances to clinch the game. There is only so much a manager can do.

Of course, that's all if Van Persie actually plays. His participation is in some doubt after missing training on Tuesday. The Manchester United man was ill and thus rested, as Van Gaal explains, quoted by The Guardian's Owen Gibson

He had some stomach problems, some intestinal problems, so it’s better not to train then because you make it worse.

Van Persie is our captain. So in that capacity alone he is very important. In principle my captain will always play but they have to be in good shape.

In better news for the Dutch, Nigel de Jong trained this week, a surprise after he was supposedly ruled out of the tournament following a groin strain picked up against Mexico. If he is fit, it would obviously be a huge boost for the Netherlands, primarily as they try to keep Messi quiet.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

In De Jong's absence, Van Gaal will either stick with Georginio Wijnaldum, bring in Jonathan de Guzman or possibly move Daley Blind into the middle.

However, all of those would be inferior options to De Jong, who would of course bring bite, leadership and organisation into their midfield, all of which will be required if they are to prevent Messi from running the game.

Not that Van Gaal is particularly preoccupied by Messi, saying, per Gibson: "We are playing against Argentina. We always refer to teams and not individual players. We have a plan ready for Argentina."

He is, as is often the case, quite right, but that plan will only work if Van Persie and his other stars play well enough to carry it out effectively.