In the third-place match of the 2014 World Cup, Robin Van Persie finally scored his first goal beyond the group stage. It came early in the match for the Netherlands as Brazil captain Thiago Silva conceded a penalty. It was Van Persie’s third World Cup and his performance from the Round of 16 on did nothing to change the big game stigma. Though he has shown great ability to score, it is his absence in big games that could tarnish his legacy.
Van Persie’s goal today was a well-taken penalty, but he quickly disappeared from the match. Often when he received the ball he was near midfield. He would then have to turn and retreat putting him further out of the play. He was caught offside one time, but rarely was his name called after the goal aside from a few good hold up plays. The striker was able to find his space when his team was breaking, but faded when the Netherlands had to build through possession. As teams put more men behind the ball coach Louis Van Gaal and Van Persie were unable to adjust against the more compact defenses.
The match against Argentina may have been the worst performance of them all for Van Persie in the 2014 World Cup. He had only 23 touches, which was the fewest of any games. His supporting cast had trouble finding the ball as well, which did not help Van Persie. He came back to the midfield time and again and struggled to change gears to get back to the attacking third. Van Persie may exit this tournament with the goal of the World Cup on that magnificent diving header, but his impact clearly declined.
Van Persie played in all four matches for the Netherlands in the 2006 World Cup. His only goal came in the group stage off a free kick. In South Africa in 2010 he scored and was named man of the match in a game that secured the group against Cameroon. He did not score again despite the Netherlands making it to the final.
These big game performances extend beyond the World Cup. Van Persie was able to score one goal in the 2012 European Championships and the Netherlands finished last in their group. The Netherlands topped their group in the 2008 Euros but fell 3-1 in the first game of the knockout round. The Netherlands scored a total of 10 goals in the competition with Van Persie responsible for two.
Van Persie is a great talent and can score in a number of different ways. Unfortunately his performance in big matches have given him another, less flattering reputation. The 2014 World Cup may have a lasting image and meme of a beautiful Van Persie goal, but it did not have his brilliance in the knockouts.