Wednesday 21 February 2018

Robben returns asHolland bait Japanese squad

Jeremy Wilson in Durban

Holland's World Cup chances received a considerable lift yesterday when Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben made an unexpected return to training.

Robben missed the 2-0 win against Denmark with a hamstring injury and had not trained since the beginning of the tournament, but took part in a full session with his team-mates ahead of today's Group E match against Japan in Durban.

However, both teams were forced to train at the Princess Magogo Stadium in the local Kwamashu Township, with the pitch at the main Moses Mabhida Stadium being protected after a heavy downpour on Thursday night.

Holland manager Bert van Marwijk said it had been "quite something" to have Robben back training and will wait until shortly before kick-off before making a final decision about his availability. The expectation is he will not be risked from the start, but he could play a part as a substitute.

It would be an exaggeration to describe this as a grudge match, but Holland are unlikely to have won many new friends in Japan during the build-up to this game.

Van Marwijk first met Japan manager Takeshi Okada at the World Cup draw in Cape Town last December, but mistook him for a Fifa official. Dirk Kuyt, the Liverpool striker, also made a rather lame attempt at humour when asked yesterday if the Dutch team liked sushi. "Lots of players eat sushi in our team and we hope we will have them for dinner," he said.

Okada, though, said that he had taken no offence at Van Marwijk's previous failure to recognise him.

"I am not close to Van Marwijk -- I don't know him well," he said. "I cannot pronounce the Dutch coach's surname but I don't mean disrespect.

"We realise this is a sophisticated team but we believe we have a chance to win. We shouldn't feel small."

Okada has reason to be optimistic following the surprise 1-0 win over Cameroon, although Japan were beaten 3-0 by the Dutch in a friendly last September. "We have been focusing on our strategy to beat the world-class teams," he said.

Van Marwijk believes Japan have improved considerably since then. "I expect a very aggressive Japan," he said. "They have progressed, and found a style." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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