Van Persie brings artistic touch as Dutch concentrate on winning with style

The Dutch do two things at World Cups – they fight among themselves and captivate the tournament with their football. But until their arrival in Cape Town on Friday they had done neither of those two.

They are still not bitching about each other, but with the arrival of Arjen Robben and the return to full fitness of Robin van Persie, the football is starting to flow.

Cape Town may be the World Cup's most attractive venue but until Van Persie opened his account – after a beautiful triangle of passes against a Cameroon team in a barely declared state of civil war – the football on show had been as grey and grim as Moscow under Stalin.

Van Persie, whose torn ankle ligaments undermined Arsenal's season and threatened to ruin his World Cup, hoped "it might be the start of something".

As befits the son of artists from Rotterdam, Van Persie was among the most adamant that Arsène Wenger should not compromise Arsenal's style of play in search of trophies, and he feels the same way about the Netherlands. He was not born when total football came to the 1974 World Cup and was barely at primary school when Marco van Basten drove the Dutch to their only major trophy in 1988, but he is their spiritual successor.

"The Dutch public are very quick to criticise if we don't play well and, to be honest, I don't mind that because that is the way we are," he said.

"We need to lift our sights and play like we know we can. It is the same target that we have at Arsenal, where we want to win but we want to win with style.

"We have some really talented people and I know that, if I don't score, we have someone like Arjen Robben on the bench, or Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Physically and mentally, there is more to come from me. When you start a tournament having played 60 games you can be very tired but I have played 25.

"You will have to see in the next couple of weeks whether my being injured was a blessing in disguise but I feel very, very fresh.

"I know some of the boys have been tired with all the travelling around South Africa but I don't mind waiting around for two hours or staying in a hotel for a long time because I am back with the team."

The irony is that the team is managed by Bert van Marwijk, with whom Van Persie fell out so badly at Feyenoord that it was a major factor in his decision to move to London. And yet Van Marwijk may be just what this team requires – a man forever guarding against complacency and arrogance.

Holland do group games very well – they have only ever lost two; once to an Archie Gemmill-inspired Scotland in Cordoba in 1978 and then further north in Orlando in 1994 to Belgium, of all teams.

But they have been here before. In 2006 and again in Euro 2008 under Van Basten, they were eliminated the moment the knockout phase began – by Portugal in a brutal match in Nuremberg in the former and then by Russia two years later.

And this may be why, when asked to comment on Van Persie's wonderfully taken goal or Robben's gorgeous turn and shot on to the post, Van Marwijk grumbled about sloppy play and boys taking their feet off the pedal. He wasn't satisfied, and for those who think it appropriate the Dutch might triumph in a nation they did much to build, that was as comforting as the sound of contented silence coming from their training camp.

Holland v Slovakia

Today, 3pm, BBC1

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