Van Nistelrooy plays down rumour of Ronaldo dispute

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The Independent Football

Ruud van Nistelrooy insists reports of a rift with Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo are totally inaccurate.

When Sir Alex Ferguson hinted the Dutch striker was undermining team spirit after he was turfed out of United's team hotel prior to the final Premiership game against Charlton, speculation immediately surfaced about a training ground row between Van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo, which is supposed to have left the young winger in tears.

Ronaldo has since rejected the claims and, as the duo prepare to meet for the first time since Van Nistelrooy was cast into exile, the former PSV Eindhoven striker has condemned the rumours too. "There is no problem between Cristiano and me," he said.

"I know, he knows and everyone at Manchester United knows that. Nothing has happened between us at all. In fact, we both get along really well."

Throughout the World Cup, Van Nistelrooy has continually confirmed his intention to return to Manchester for pre-season training unless he is told otherwise.

For now, his focus is totally on the Netherlands, which is just as well because there are murmurings around the Dutch camp about the 29-year-old's form.

Although the Dutch sauntered out of the so-called "Group of Death" to set up Sunday's first knockout round meeting with Portugal in Nuremburg, Van Nistelrooy contributed just a single goal to the Oranje effort.

Lacking the service of Arjen Robben against Argentina last night, he barely got a kick in Frankfurt and some are now starting to question Marco van Basten's decision to leave talented Ajax star Klaas-Jan Huntelaar out of his 23-man squad.

Instead, Huntelaar spent the early part of his summer at the European Under-21 championships, where he finished top scorer, firing the Dutch youngsters to glory.

Having placed total faith in Van Nistelrooy to deliver the goods and with only Dirk Kuyt to call on as a direct replacement, Van Basten is hardly likely to axe his most experienced forward for such an important game.

But he does accept Van Nistelrooy needs to make a more meaningful contribution. "I expect more from a player of his standard," said Van Basten. "Ruud is training well but he needs to show a little bit more."

Van Basten admitted his statement was partially an attempt to fire Van Nistelrooy into life in the same way Ferguson has done on occasion down the years at Manchester United.

Van Nistelrooy's form certainly needs to return as, in Portugal, the Netherlands face a side which proved too good for them at the semi-final stage of Euro 2004.

"We have bad memories from that semi-final," said Van Nistelrooy, one of only five members of the Dutch starting XI that night to retain their places two years on. "But this will be different. We have to go for it."

The prize of a quarter-final meeting with either England or Ecuador is one to set Dutch pulses racing.

But, while the possibility remains of an appearance against the country in which he currently earns his living is an attractive one, Van Nistelrooy is refusing to look too far into the future.

"I don't want to think about it," he said. "Portugal are too good a team to start looking beyond them."