A wave of injuries has depleted the Dutch national side as it prepares for the final two qualifying matches for next year’s European Championship. But neither team nor manager seem to be too worried.
The bad news just kept coming these past few weeks. First, it was Ibrahim Afellay tearing a knee ligament at a Barcelona training session, an injury that may cause him to miss next year’s finals. Then came the news that Wesley Sneijder (groin) and John Heitinga (knee) would miss out on the two upcoming qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden.
This week’s preparations saw three more players forced to withdraw. Hedwiges Maduro suffered an ankle injury during training and medical tests showed that no 1 goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg has yet to recover from a blow to his head sustained in an Italian Serie A match. And the latest to leave the Holland training base was Arjen Robben, who pulled out on Wednesday with a painful pelvic problem that just doesn’t seem to go away.
No reason for panic
This series of misfortunes has limited Bert van Marwijk’s ability to field the best balanced side for Friday’s home match against Moldova and the final Euro 2012 qualifier away in Sweden four days later. But the Holland manager claims he and his squad can deal with it:
“It’s unfortunate. As a manager, you would like to have all your good players together. But it won’t change our basic objective, which is to win by playing good football. This time too, we’ll do everything we can to achieve that.”
Midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, just back from injury himself, doesn’t seem too much concerned about the depleted team either.
“No, we have a big squad, and even without key players like Sneijder, Heitinga and Robben we have other players to replace them and they also do well.”
Van der Vaart himself is a case in point. The absence of star attraction Wesley Sneijder allows him to move to the playmaker position he prefers:
“That’s my favourite position, of course. Here in the national team, when Wesley is fit, he plays behind the strikers and then I play sometimes like a holding midfielder. But in this team you can play everywhere, because we play good football based on possession. So it doesn’t matter where I play.”
His words are echoed by captain Mark van Bommel, who blames the current spate of injuries on the crowded football calendar and the high pressure this puts on players.
“All these injuries mean that we never play with the same line-up, although our game is nearly always the same. Everyone knows - and it doesn’t matter what their position is – what they have to do. Our basic system, whether in possession or not, remains the same. Of course, our performance depends on the individual skills of players. But one of our key assets is that we’ve developed very fast and even if we don’t play well, like our previous match in Finland [2-0 victory for Holland, ed], we’re still able to win.”
One more point
That win in Helsinki assured the Dutch of a ticket to next year’s European Championship finals. But Holland want more: finishing in the top spot of Group E would give them a number of privileges, including the right to play the first three group matches of the finals at the same venue.
And to finish in pole position, the Dutch need at least three points out of the two final qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden. The first match looks the easier of the two, but Van Bommel warns against inflated expectations:
“Last year’s away match against Moldova was tough. And of course, our recent record 11-0 home victory against San Marino is still fresh in people’s minds. That was a fine match, in which we played with a lot of discipline and commitment. Of course, we’ll try, but we can’t promise a similar result this time around.”