Holland opens qualifying at San Marino
The Netherlands should ease through its first European Championship qualifier against San Marino on Friday even without injured striker Robin van Persie and winger Arjen Robben.
The World Cup finalists are also missing suspended center back John Heitinga, but the defense should not be seriously tested by the amateurs from San Marino in Serravalle.
While the team is based around a nucleus of players who lost 1-0 in extra time to Spain in the World Cup final, there also will be new and old faces and a new captain.
Ajax defender Vurnon Anita will likely take over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s spot at left back and Bayern Munich midfield enforcer Mark van Bommel has been given the captaincy.
"We’re keeping it in the family," said Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, who is also Van Bommel’s father-in-law. "He was the unanimous choice. Mark has a lot of experience as captain of PSV and Bayern Munich. He also marshals the team on the pitch and is a leadership figure."
The trip to San Marino also marks the international comeback of veteran striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who was called up this week to cover for Van Persie after the Arsenal forward injured his left ankle on Saturday.
Van Nistelrooy has not played under Van Marwijk – his last match was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, when he scored the only goal in a 3-1 loss to Russia. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid player has scored 33 goals in 64 international appearances.
"I’m taking it very seriously, but it feels like a joke," Van Nistelrooy told the official Dutch supporters’ website. "I’m back. I’m happy."
It is not clear if Van Nistelrooy, who has scored three goals already this season for Hamburg, will start Friday’s match. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has just transferred from AC Milan to Schalke, is more likely to start up front.
Robben is missing with a left hamstring injury and is expected to be out for the rest of the year.
Forward Dirk Kuyt said that after the highs and lows of reaching and then losing the World Cup final – the third time the Netherlands has fallen at the last hurdle in football’s biggest tournament – the team now has to start over.
"We are now back to square one," Kuyt said. "It is very important that you begin well and get six points from the first two matches."
San Marino, a tiny city state in central Italy, has a squad made up almost entirely of amateurs. Forward Andy Selva, who plays for Verona in Italy’s Serie B, is the top scoring threat.
After Friday’s match, the Netherlands heads home to take on Finland in Rotterdam next Tuesday in Group E.