The Netherlands will be without the likes of Robin van Persie, Nigel de Jong and Theo Janssen when it faces Moldova in a 2012 European Championship qualifier on Friday.
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Injuries have ruled out a long list of stars including Van Persie and Janssen, along with long-term injured Arjen Robben, while De Jong misses out on the Dutch bid to make it three consecutive qualifying wins after being dropped by coach Bert van Marwijk.
De Jong has faced a barrage of criticism since a lunging tackle on Sunday broke Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa’s left leg in two places. He will also miss Tuesday’s qualifier against Sweden in Amsterdam.
Losing finalist at the World Cup, the Netherlands has started Group E qualifying with wins over San Marino and Finland, while Moldova beat Finland before losing in Hungary.
Van Marwijk also is missing defenders Hedwiges Maduro and Vurnon Anita along with winger Eljero Elia. He has drafted in Urby Emanuelson from Ajax and FC Twente teammates Peter Wisgerhof and Wout Brama to provide backup.
But it is De Jong’s absence – dropped by Van Marwijk because of his latest dangerous tackle – that has overshadowed Dutch preparations for the match in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
"Nigel went too far," Van Marwijk said. "This situation has only losers. Ben Arfa has a double leg fracture; Nigel has also lost out and I can’t use an influential and in-form player for two important matches."
Even so, he added: "I did not have to think long about this decision. I thought straight away it was unacceptable."
Van Marwijk said he will talk to De Jong again after the Sweden match. "As far as I’m concerned, Nigel de Jong’s international career is not over."
Tottenham midfielder Rafael van der Vaart is hoping De Jong’s absence will mean he gets a starting spot – a move that would pair him with Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder and give the Dutch even more creativity in midfield.
Van Marwijk also has in-form striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar fit and hoping to add to his tally of five goal in the first two qualifiers.
Moldova apparently already is looking beyond the Dutch match to a more likely chance for a win against tiny San Marino on Oct. 12.
"If everything goes well in the first match, I don’t want the players to relax for the match against San Marino," said coach Gabi Balint. "If we lose to the Netherlands, the fans will forgive us, but if we lose to San Marino, we will never be forgiven."
Balint made no major changes to his squad from the first two qualifiers.
Friday’s match at the 10,500-seat Zimbru stadium sold out within hours and hundreds of fans who had lined up early hoping for a chance to see their team take on the World Cup runner-up were turned away disappointed.