JOHANNESBURG, June 22 (Reuters) - Netherlands fans have got used to reading about controversy in their country's squad at major tournaments over the years so peace and harmony among the players at the World Cup is a welcome change.
"Everyone accepts and respects each other on and off the pitch and everyone knows that. Nobody stands up and says: 'I am the leader' or whatever, it is not an issue in this squad," Netherlands midfielder Mark van Bommel told reporters.
"It has been a natural process. The most important thing is that everyone feels appreciated, even the boys who hardly play. You can see how we celebrate our goals as one collective (group) and that is a good sign," he added.
The Dutch were the first team to reach the second round in South Africa after clinical wins over Denmark and Japan and the only controversy concerns the fact that their performances have lacked their usual dose of entertainment value.
It is all a far cry from previous tournaments including the 1978 World Cup when the great Johan Cruyff and Wim van Hanegem retired from the national team before the finals.
At the European Championship in 1996 midfielder Edgar Davids publicly insulted coach Guus Hiddink and went home.
Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder then fell out after an argument over who should take a free-kick in the Euro 2008 quarter-final with Russia. Netherlands lost 3-1 in extra time.
But Van Bommel said there was no longer any room for players with pretensions to be the figurehead of a squad that set out on a mission after Euro 2008 to win the World Cup in South Africa.
"I never think about the leading role in this squad," said the holding midfielder, who returned to the international scene in August 2008 after two years, having refused to play under former coach Marco van Basten after the 2006 World Cup.
Van Persie did ruffle a few feathers saying he would be the main striker and preferred playing as one of the 'big four' with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart up front.
Van Persie has not yet scored at the finals despite getting four goals in three warm-up matches before the tournament but Van Bommel said there was no problem with Van Persie's views.
"He can do that. He just has so many qualities and is a top player. He did not enforce the role of leader but became a sort of pioneer ad that is just part of the development he's going through," Van Bommel said of Van Persie's role in the squad.
"It (his scoring ability) hasn't shown on the pitch so far but his position is so difficult given how defensive our opponents have been. But when he gets the ball at his feet he hardly ever loses it and that is what makes him important."
As far as the lack of entertainment is concerned, the Dutch media believe Robben is the missing link and he may feature against Cameroon on Thursday after recovering from a hamstring injury picked up in a warm-up game against Hungary.
"I think that all 32 coaches at this World Cup would love to have Robben in their squad," Van Bommel said of the Bayern Munich winger. "Sometimes he draws the attention of four or five players and he has the quality to get past four or five.
"It showed against Hungary and this season at Bayern he also displayed that. Then there will be more space for others. If a match is locked he can open it and also when you are playing well he is very useful," he added.comments