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Sneijder prepared to sacrifice offensive ideals

Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder is prepared to surrender his attacking instincts to fill a defensive role.
AFP | By Benoit Noel, Lausanne, Switzerland
UPDATED ON JUN 04, 2008 05:54 PM IST

The Dutch as ever enter a major finals resplendent with attacking talent and to this end one of their star offensive midfielders Wesley Sneijder is prepared to surrender his attacking instincts to fill a defensive role.

The Real Madrid dynamo was outstanding during the Spanish season in filling a spot just behind compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy as the meringues romped to the title.

However, Sneijder, who made his name at Ajax, acknowledges that with fellow talents such as Robin van der Vaart, Real Madrid team-mate Arjen Robben and a now fit Robin van Persie that coach Marco van Basten has some hard choices to make.

"I hope that the coach will select me in an offensive position," said Sneijder, who will be 24 on June 9, the day of their opening match against world champions Italy.

"Behind the central striker, in the centre or on the right - I don't have a preference - it is there that I feel the most at ease.

"The coach has an embarrassment of riches which can be nothing but a positive thing. It is for him to sort out," added Sneijder.

During the warm-up matches van Basten had van der Vaart filling the role of playmaker, Robben out on the left - where he is virtually unchallengeable - and Sneijder on the right.

However, with van Persie having shaken off the effects of a thigh injury - one of several he suffered during a frustrating season with Arsenal - Sneijder could well find himself having to play a defensive midfielder role.

Sneijder, though, is willing to make that sacrifice if it means that the Dutch can emulate their compatriots of 1988 - which included van Basten - and land the European title.

"I would have no problem in playing as one of the two defensive midfielders," said Sneijder.

"Even if I know that I am better in a more advanced role."

Sneijder has already filled the role in the unhappy campaign at the 2006 World Cup finals, where they exited in the second round to Portugal, which was more notable for the extreme physical nature of the game than for its football and saw a record number of cards flourished by the referee.

"I played in that role at the World Cup," said Sneijder.

"It wasn't very conclusive. But at the time we played with just one defensive midfielder whereas now van Basten plays with two. That makes an enormous difference."

Van Basten, who steps down to take over at Ajax after the tournament, believes that Sneijder is more prepared this time and ready to assume the responsibility.

"Two years ago, it was not a good situation in respect of the defensive midfielder position," said van Basten, who has managed to rebuild his bridges with van Nistelrooy but not with hardman midfielder Marc van Bommel and fell out also with veteran Clarence Seedorf.

"But Wesley has grown up and he is mature enough now to fill that role."

Van Basten, scorer of perhaps the greatest goal in the tournament's history when he scored in the 1988 final against the then Soviet Union, is keen to to field all four of his star midfielders, though, Sneijder realises that against teams such as Italy and 2006 World Cup finalists France, it will be imperative to be a little cautious.

"It is also important to defend, even if we are not a counterattacking side," said Sneijder.

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