EXCLUSIVE: The Netherlands midfielder insists the Bayern star and Robin van Persie can be pivotal at the World Cup and praised the tactics of Louis van Gaal
AC Milan midfielder Nigel de Jong insists Arjen Robben’s “astonishing” form proves he can be a major player at this summer’s World Cup.
Robben has enjoyed a sensational two years with Bayern Munich, scoring the winning goal in last season’s Champions League final as the German giants secured an historic treble, while he has also lifted the Bundesliga title again in 2013-14.
The 30-year-old was part of the Netherlands side which endured a torrid Euro 2012 campaign, but his international team-mate De Jong is convinced both he and Robin van Persie can help banish the memories of their ignominious group-stage exit in Poland and Ukraine.
When asked if the Oranje stars were in decline, he told Goal: “I don’t think so.
“Robben is at the highest peak of his career, his last two years were astonishing, and he seems to be perfectly fit. Van Persie is our skipper, our leader, he didn’t play his best season but this was due to the transition at Manchester United. But I recently heard from him and he’s ready, he’s recovering a good shape.
“We weren’t a group, there was no cohesion between us and nothing really worked well,” he added of the tournament two years ago. “Somebody said that if we won against Denmark, then the rest of our tournament could have been different. I’m very doubtful about that. There was too much individualism.”
Netherlands reached the final in 2010 where they were beaten 1-0 by Spain, and De Jong admits it will be tough for his side to repeat their feats of South Africa.
“We have to be realistic, it will be very difficult for us,” he said. “We’ll have to build up our World Cup step by step. Our minimum target is to go through the group stage, no matter how we do it. Then… never say never, but we’re always keeping down to earth. But in 2010, nobody expected us to go that far.
“This Oranje XI is very different to the one that played in South Africa: we have a different approach, a different style of play. We believe that our crucial match will be against Chile: I’ve seen them on many occasions and I’ve been impressed by their solidity. It will be a very tough test, because Chile have a lot of quality and high level players.”
De Jong was involved in an infamous incident with Xabi Alonso in the 2010 final, when he escaped punishment from the referee for a lunging chest-high challenge, but the former Manchester City man insists he was not aware how poor the challenge was until after the game.
“I became aware of the gravity of my action only later, watching the replay on a TV screen,” he said. “In those moments I was full of tension and adrenaline, I wasn’t thinking about a yellow or a red card. In that moment I thought I was simply looking for the ball and I fouled my opponent.”
Netherlands enjoyed an impressive qualifying campaign under Louis van Gaal – who is posied to become Manchester United’s new manager after the tournament – and De Jong admits he enjoys the tactics employed by the former Bayern boss.
“Every coach has his own philosophy. Van Gaal wants to play attacking football, he wants a lot of pressing and to dominate the game. Tactically, the double defensive midfielder used by [Bert] Van Marwijk has disappeared. The three-man midfield now has a defensive man, a classical number 10 and a dynamic midfielder who can connect both phases.”
Finally, De Jong conceded that the lossof Kevin Strootman will be tough for the team, but has backed Wesley Sneijder to play an important role in Brazil despite having slipped down the pecking order under Van Gaal.
“Kevin was playing a wonderful season and confirming all his qualities. But I’m sure he’ll come back even stronger, he has the right mentality,” he added.
“These kind of choices are up to Van Gaal. Wesley’s qualities are not up for discussion, he’s one of those players able to decide a game in every moment, like he did in the Champions League against Juventus.”