World Cup: Ecuador, Netherlands eye a place in the next round

Netherlands players including Virgil van Dijk (centre) and Steven Bergwijn (second from left) during training in Doha on Nov 24. PHOTO: AFP

DOHA – Ecuador or the Netherlands will take a huge step towards the second round of the World Cup if either can force a victory in Friday’s Group A clash at the Khalifa International Stadium, after both sides won their openers in Qatar.

But while Ecuador have set their target of advancing to the round of 16, as they did in Germany in 2006, the Dutch will be looking for a vastly improved performance to back up coach Louis van Gaal’s assertion that they can go on and win the World Cup.

“Ecuador are a very tough opponent. I think Ecuador are a more organised team than Senegal. It will be hard,” said van Gaal, whose team beat the Senegalese 2-0 on Monday via two late goals.

“We know that Ecuador are a good team. It seems to me they don’t score much, but they are a team who are difficult to score against.

“Excuse me but I cannot reveal more details because I would be showing my cards. Not even about names or strategies. But we are here to be world champions.”

The Netherlands were far from their efficient best in beating African champions Senegal but van Gaal was pleased with the three points, which were vindication of his surprise decision to hand goalkeeper Andries Noppert an international debut.

He did, however, criticise the “shoddy” manner of the victory, as did captain Virgil van Dijk.

“We won but we also know that we can and must do better,” the skipper said. “Going forward, we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal’s counter-attacks. That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at.”

The Dutch will likely give Memphis Depay a start after he came off the bench against Senegal for his first match in two months after struggling with a hamstring injury.

There are unlikely to be any major changes to van Gaal’s line-up, with his 3-5-2 formation set to include Frenkie de Jong and Steven Berghuis in midfield, and Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind on the wings.

Ecuador are sweating on the fitness of Enner Valencia, who got both goals in their 2-0 win over hosts Qatar on Sunday but limped off late in that game with a knee strain. The team are awaiting further tests on the veteran striker.

Goalkeeper Hernan Galindez, meanwhile, said Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina on Tuesday proved no team was unbeatable.

“I think that Argentina’s defeat will not be the last surprise of this World Cup,” the 35-year-old added.

“Despite the victory of the Netherlands, they were evenly matched against Senegal. There are certainly ways to hurt the Netherlands.

“It will be a tough match, but I expect the Netherlands to approach us with respect.” REUTERS

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