RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A year ago, Wesley Sneijder was out of form, out of shape and playing out of position for his Turkish club.
Now, thanks to a regime of mixed martial arts training and more playing time with Galatasaray, the Dutch midfield playmaker is fighting fit and looking to repeat his heroics from the 2010 World Cup in Brazil.
Sneijder was the star of the Netherlands' charge to the World Cup final in South Africa and the tournament's joint top scorer with five goals, including two to oust Brazil in the quarterfinals.
In training Tuesday, he looked the part — sprinting after balls and firing in free kicks.
It was a totally different Sneijder from the player coach Louis van Gaal stripped of the Netherlands' captaincy last year after a drawn-out transfer from Inter Milan to Galatasaray and a series of injuries plunged him into a form crisis.
"First he has to get fit, then into form, and then I'll compare him with what I have available," Van Gaal said last year.
Sneijder took the criticism to heart and turned this year to a mixed martial arts fighter to get back in shape. It paid off with a ticket to Brazil.
"They were explosive training sessions," he said. "It has made me more explosive in the first meters. I feel that I've benefited."
He also says that playing more since the winter break has helped hone his match fitness. Sneijder crowned his return to form by scoring the only goal in Turkey's domestic cup final last month to give Galatasaray a record 15th cup triumph.