After winning their first five FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Netherlands are riding high in Group D, but coach Louis van Gaal remains committed to bringing through young talent.
For Friday's 3-0 Group A victory against Estonia at the Amsterdam ArenA, Van Gaal fielded the inexperienced Daley Blind, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi – all eligible for the Under-21s – in defence, gave Kenneth Vermeer a call ahead of Maarten Stekelenburg in goal, and drafted Feyenoord's Daryl Janmaat at right-back. Tellingly, that five-man rearguard boasted just 16 appearances between them. Midfielder Jonathan De Guzmán also earned only his second cap, with Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben providing experience further upfield.
Van Persie, at 29, has found himself being treated as an old head. "Recently, the coach said something I'd never heard before in my football life, telling me I was one of the elders in the squad," said the Manchester United FC forward. "That took some getting used to. I was always one of the youngsters, but there comes a day when you become part of the old guard, and that is how it is now."
Capped 73 times, Van Persie's career will come full circle on Tuesday when the Oranje take on Romania – the opposition when he made his international debut on 4 June 2005. Having scored his 32nd goal against Estonia, he needs one more to join Abe Lenstra and Johan Cruyff in second place in the list of highest-scoring Dutch internationals, with Patrick Kluivert's record of 40 in sight.
However, given the quantity and quality of junior Dutch prospects, Van Persie will have to watch his back if he is to achieve that milestone – not that he is complaining. "The basis of our work is giving young players chances as often as possible," he said. "Appointing good coaches and training and educating young players – that is something we do pretty well in the Netherlands."
With Sneijder sustaining a groin injury on Friday, Rafael van der Vaart is expected to take the vacant place against Romania in Amsterdam, while AFC Ajax's Vermeer and Blind may get the opportunity to avenge their club's UEFA Europa League round of 32 exit at the hands of Romanian league leaders FC Steaua Bucureşti – though Blind will not admit to it.
"It's true there will be some players from Steaua in their squad, but let's not talk about the Steaua game," 23-year-old Blind said with a smile. "For me it is just a matter of keeping doing my best for Ajax to retain my national-team place."