Holland coach Bert van Marwijk has demanded unity among his World Cup players after Robin van Persie's angry outburst at being substituted in the 2-1 defeat of Slovakia threatened to derail his preparations for the quarter-final against Brazil.
Van Marwijk said yesterday he called a team meeting after reports in the Dutch media that the Arsenal striker said midfielder Wesley Sneijder should have been brought off instead of him.
"I will never accept anything that could upset the next match," Van Marwijk told Dutch TV station NOS.
"I spoke to Robin and he is supposed to have said something about Wesley," Van Marwijk said. "I've spoken to Wesley and after that I called the team together... told them what I think and then drew a line under it."
He did not elaborate on what he said to the players, but his swift action was clearly intended to preserve unity in the crucial build-up to Friday's match in Port Elizabeth.
Previous Dutch campaigns have often been rocked by infighting, but the team had appeared unified in South Africa. And Van Marwijk insists he has nipped the latest dispute in the bud. "I've always said I don't mind if something happens – that can make you stronger – but I don't like to leave problems dangling," he said. "It's over. For everybody."
Van Persie and Sneijder did not speak to the media yesterday, but Van Persie denied on Monday having said Sneijder should have been substituted instead of him. Van Marwijk said he did not hear what Van Persie said to him after the substitution because of the din of vuvuzelas in the stadium. Sneijder made no comment after the Slovakia match.
Van Persie and Sneijder have a history of tense relations dating back to a public spat over who should have taken a free-kick in the 2008 European Championship quarter-final defeat to Russia. Van Persie was angry at being substituted on Monday, believing chances were about to come his way.
"I wanted to finish the game. I thought they would take risks in the last 10 minutes and I wanted to exploit that," Van Persie said after the game. "I could see spaces opening up and I wanted to use them, so I was a bit shocked when I had to go off."
The striker, who has scored just one goal at the World Cup, appeared to remonstrate with Van Marwijk on the sideline before sitting on the bench.
Immediately after the match, Van Marwijk played down any dispute with his first-choice striker, who has scored 19 goals in 48 internationals.
"I shook his hand and understood he was disappointed, that's not a bad thing," Van Marwijk said on Monday. "Everyone wants to play the whole game."
The most famous case of Dutch disunity was at the 1996 European Championship, when coach Guus Hiddink sent midfielder Edgar Davids home early for insulting him in an interview. That squad was reportedly divided between black and white players.
Van Marwijk's predecessor, Marco van Basten also fell out with Davids, Mark van Bommel and Clarence Seedorf and famously criticised Ruud van Nistelrooy during the 2006 World Cup.
"I am not scoring and that eats away at me – at every striker, I think," Van Persie added. "I've had a few small chances. I just want to score."
"It's difficult for Robin to get free," Arjen Robben said. "You are tightly marked at a World Cup, we shouldn't make a big deal out of it."
Van Persie said he has learned playing for Arsenal that more chances will come his way – and that he will put one of them away. "One thing I learned in England is that you can miss chances or have a bad first touch, but as a striker there will always be another chance," Van Persie said.
Robben was delighted to score against Slovakia having come back from injury. "If you look just in terms of the injury, it's a big moment because it's a long sprint and you need to be explosive. In general I was pretty free in this game, but I also know that I'm not yet at my top level," said Robben.
"It was a very difficult match, we didn't play our best but in the end it's about winning. Hopefully, we will save our best match for when it is needed.
"It was a great experience to be on the pitch again from the first minute and to be decisive for the team, it's a great feeling," he added.