Wesley Sneijder is the man charged with pulling the strings and dictating the pace in the Netherlands' star-studded midfield. His precision passing to Dirk Kuyt, Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie can clinically dissect an entire defensive line, and the 26-year-old schemer is no slouch in front of goal either. Prior to the Oranje's second group match at South Africa 2010, FIFA spoke to the Inter Milan star.
FIFA: Wesley, you've made a good start to the tournament, so how is the mood in the Netherlands camp?
Wesley Sneijder: The mood after a victory is always good. It's important to win your first match of the tournament, both for the atmosphere in the camp, and as we look ahead to the next round. And it was a game in which we didn't play very well and yet still won – that's very important too.
You say it wasn't a fantastic game. What needs to improve?
Well, it could be much better overall and we all readily admit that. We have to prove that now, and play the football we've played in the two years leading up to here, in the qualifiers and the warm-up matches before the World Cup.
You face Japan next. Do you think you'll have to go into that game with a different approach?
Fortunately, we know the Japanese very well, because we played a friendly match against them in the Netherlands last autumn. It was a difficult match and we were under pressure for an hour, but eventually we won 3-0. They run hard and play tight combination football – it's difficult to defend against them. They basically play the way we want to, you always sit up and take notice when your opponents do that. It's the second match of the tournament and we both have three points, so the winning team has a big chance of going through to the next round.
Arjen Robben is close to fitness after injury. What does that mean for you?
He's not completely fit yet, but he's back on the training pitch and he's with us in the group, which is important for the atmosphere. We have to wait until he's back to 100 per cent. Maybe he'll return for the last match against Cameroon, but let's hope by that time it no longer matters so much, and he can take some extra days to rest.
Everybody plays good football. That's the chief characteristic of this team.
What's his role in the team, and what do you see as his qualities?
It's clear that Arjen has had a really good season. He's been very important for Bayern Munich. He's a player with a lot of qualities and he's very useful for the team. He can change the course of a game with his speed and the way he goes past defenders. That's something we need, and it's important, but let's hope we go as far as possible without him, because that would mean we're doing well anyway.
You also have an important role in the team. What do you see as your strengths?
If I can play as far forward as possible, that's where I'm at my most dangerous. Obviously, we need to get into those positions first, but with our passing game, and with a lot of creative people in midfield, that's also one of our strongest points, and that's where I do well too. My strengths? I'm not a person who likes to talk about himself very much, I let others do that. I'm here to play a very good World Cup and to go as far as possible in the tournament.
Do you feel there's extra pressure on you at the moment?
I really don't know. I have certain qualities, so people are allowed to expect a lot from me – and I want to live up to those expectations too. I didn't play my best in the first match against Denmark. It was OK during the second half, but it was difficult for all of us in the first half. I know I can do much better than that, but the first match is behind us, we took the three points and we'll be up for it again on Saturday.
You've mentioned your wealth of creative players. The Netherlands have consistently produced this kind of player down the years. How do you explain it?
I think it has something to do with our footballing education. I personally started at the age of seven, with the youth school at Ajax in Amsterdam. All we ever did was training with the ball, three or four times a week. And then when you get older it's almost every day. That's what you get in the Dutch education. We're advanced in the way we provide training of that kind, concentrating purely on the technical side of football. It's something you see with this group of players – everybody plays good football. That's the chief characteristic of this team.
How far do you think the Netherlands can go in this tournament?
We have to take each game as it comes. Two years ago, at the EURO in Austria and Switzerland, we began with a 3-0 victory against Italy and the second game was 4-1 against France. At that point, everyone said we already had the trophy in the bag. Now it's different. Everybody agrees that we didn't play our best match, but we won and we're well on our way. Let's hope we can improve as the tournament goes on, look at it game by game, and eventually we'll see where it leads us. We have to keep believing we can go all the way.