The Netherlands, battling a flu outbreak ahead of the US game, makes a surprising focal point
Fox Sports Insider
AL-RAYAN, Qatar – Louis van Gaal said his Dutch team had been hit by an “alarming” flu outbreak ahead of their World Cup last-16 tie against the United States on Saturday (Saturday).10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
The Dutch boss ditched his usual pre-match routine for a full 11v11 training match two days before kick-off, and instead gave his players the day off on Thursday.
“I gave them a day off,” Van Gaal told Dutch broadcaster NOS on Friday. “With this group, they let me know. I listen to the guys.”
He continued that after mentioning that there were “flu symptoms” in the group.
“We’re not going to expand on that,” he said. “But if things go wrong on set, it’s worrying.”
[Scouting the Netherlands: Are the Dutch vulnerable against U.S.?]
The disruption, which is believed to be caused by high air conditioning at the team’s base, should not be underestimated.
Part of the philosophy of Dutch football involves having the first player play a match against the reserves two days before the game, with the second player to replicate the opponent’s style of play – much like a scouting team in the National Football League.
To come away from that at this stage of the tournament is amazing. With 26 players in the Netherlands squad as is the case with every World Cup team, Dutch journalists have suggested that at least six players were affected severely enough not to train.
Had there been a decent 21 players, assistant coach Edgar Davids – a former national team star – would probably have been recruited to fill the latter’s coaching spot.
The only comment from the players on the matter came from midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Martin de Roon earlier in the week. De Jong complained of an itchy throat that affected his ability to communicate during the Group A win over Qatar, while De Roon said he caught a cold after reporters noticed that his eyes were watering.
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USA coach Greg Berhalter said his coaching staff and members of the team’s administrative support were sick during the early part of their trip to the Middle East, but are fine now and that the players have not had such concerns.
“I’m fine,” said Captain Tyler Adams.
As for Van Gaal, the veteran coach who previously coached Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he also sought to increase the pressure on Saturday’s referee (Brazilian Wilton Sampaio) by focusing on managing the tournament and referring to his team. It has been treated unfairly so far.
“I saw the three referees that Holland tested,” said Van Gaal. Well, I guess we can start a discussion about that as well.
“Football is a physical sport, it’s just a trend in the first three games I saw we made more mistakes than the opposition, but I think we had 50-60% possession.”
The Dutch media, who are highly critical of Van Gaal’s and the Netherlands’ performances during this tournament, expressed general concern that the United States might have the advantage in the midfielder who will play the match at Khalifa International Stadium.
Adams, Younes Musa and Weston McKinney were a combined force, while Dutch hopes are likely to be centered on the central trio of De Jong, De Roon and Davy Claassen.
Despite the Netherlands’ pedigree as three-time World Cup finalists, Van Gaal was adamant his group would not take the Americans seriously.
“The USA has proven that they have an excellent team, I would even say one of the best,” he said. “A good team, a very tough game. I wouldn’t underestimate the USA. I think they are an example of what a good team is supposed to be like.”
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can sign up for our daily newsletter here.
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