Van Persie 'kicks' Sneijder as old Dutch habits die hard

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The Independent Football

It is, after all, a major international tournament so there should be no surprises that members of the Dutch squad find themselves at odds with each other once again. This dispute may not be Ruud Gullit against Dick Advocaat at the 1994 World Cup or Edgar Davids against Guus Hiddink at Euro 1996 but Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie have, nonetheless, been doing their best to keep up an old Netherlands tradition.

The dispute was hinted at in the Dutch press on Friday when a newspaper said that Van Persie, who was injured but has now recovered sufficiently to be a potential substitute tonight, had kicked the Real Madrid midfielder in a training ground game. Marco van Basten, the Netherlands coach, went on the offensive, denied the story and demanded to know where it had come from. It turned out Sneijder had discussed the Van Persie tackle on his own website, although he has since said he believes his team-mate did not mean to hurt him.

"I was in a lot of pain at first, but after a visit to the hospital it is not as bad as it looked," Sneijder said. "It was a scare at first and now I am going to have a rest. I know Robin didn't intend this to happen and I don't blame him. It's just what happens sometimes when you have the tough battles we have in our training sessions." Nevertheless, the Arsenal man is not believed to see eye to eye with his team-mate. It will have been some relief to Van Basten that Sneijder is fit because he cannot afford to lose any more players to injury.

Liverpool's Ryan Babel was injured last week, ruling him out of the tournament and the Dutch also feared that Arjen Robben would be sent home from Euro 2008 without kicking a ball. The injury-prone former Chelsea winger is definitely out of tonight's game against Italy. The fear among the Dutch is that their frail hopes of making it through Group C could depart with their most creative attacking player. Van Basten said last *ight, however, that the winger should be fit in seven to 10 days

The Wigan defender Mario Melchiot is also an injury worry for tonight, which means that Van Basten could call upon Chelsea old boy Khalid Boulahrouz at right-back. The more pressing problem for Van Basten is who he will deploy on the left side of a midfield that is looking increasingly ad hoc. In fact, his options were becoming so limited that he was even considering switching Sneijder to the left and playing Dirk Kuyt on the right wing, to reprise the role he has fulfilled with limited success for Liverpool. Another option is Ibrahim Afellay, the PSV Eindhoven winger.

Van Basten is yet to convince an ever doubtful Dutch public that he has a team capable of getting out of Group C and beating Italy for the first time since the 1978 World Cup – that game in Buenos Aires in which Ruud Kroll and Arie Haan scored spectacular goals.

Robben has been the Netherlands' outstanding performer in their three warm-up matches against Ukraine, Denmark and Wales, games in which they have not shown the attacking verve that has characterised Dutch squads in previous tournaments. Tonight it will be Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rafael van der Vaart to whom the Dutch look for inspiration.

Van der Vaart plays in the middle behind Van Nistelrooy in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the Hamburg player has a reason to shine. He has been desperate to leave the Bundesliga club since he joined in 2005, to the extent that he was persuaded by the Spanish press to pose in a Valencia jersey last summer when the club made a bid for him.

Unfortunately for Van der Vaart the bid was rejected and Valencia did not come back with more. Pointedly ignored by Hamburg fans, he was left to stew and ended up having his best season yet, with the team finishing second behind Bayern Munich.

Once regarded as one of the great Dutch talents when he was at Ajax, Van der Vaart has never quite fulfilled his potential although, at 25, still believes he is capable of playing at one of Europe's biggest clubs. He has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for £1.25m next season, so the German club might just cash in on him now. In the meantime he will be expected to show that he can pull the strings in a Netherlands team that is beginning to run low on attacking creativity.

Netherlands (probable) (4-2-3-1): Van Der Sar (Manchester United); Boulahrouz (Seville), Ooijer (Blackburn), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); Heitinga (Ajax), De Jong (Hamburg); Sneijder (Real Madrid), Van Der Vaart (Hamburg), Afellay (PSV); Van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid).

Italy (probable) (4-3-2-1): Buffon (Juventus); Zambrotta (Milan), Chiellini (Juventus), Materazzi (Internazionale), Grosso (Lyons); Gattuso (Milan), Pirlo (Milan), Ambrosini (Milan); Camoranesi (Juventus), Di Natale (Udinese); Toni (Bayern Munich).

Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).

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