DOHA: Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has hinted that Memphis Depay could start Friday’s World Cup group game against Ecuador as the Barcelona star gradually returns to full fitness.
Depay was sidelined for two months with a thigh injury before coming off the bench for the last half hour of Monday’s Group A opener against Senegal.
He then assisted on one of the goals as the three-time runners-up won 2-0.
“He played 30 minutes and the next step will be 45 minutes,” said Van Gaal. “The injury he has makes it very difficult to say when he can start so we have to look at him.
“But he is an extraordinary player and so I put my principles aside because I consider him very important to my team.
“I explained this to the players, that I’m doing all this for Memphis, and the players accepted.”
The Ecuadorian national team hopes that its star striker Ener Valencia will be fit to play in the match at Khalifa International Stadium.
The 33-year-old wore the captain’s armband in their opening match against host country Qatar, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.
But coach Gustavo Alfaro said a decision had to be made on whether he would be able to play against the Netherlands after suffering a knock.
“The tests show no injuries. This is important, but it has taken a hard hit,” Alfaro said.
“We will see how he responds in training and then decide whether he can play from the start, participate during the match, or not participate at all.”
The Netherlands draw a line under the captaincy protests
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal insisted his team would not mirror Germany’s mouth-covering protest ahead of their second group-stage match against Ecuador on Friday.
Germany made the gesture during a team photo ahead of Wednesday’s shock 2-1 defeat by Japan.
The German protest came after they were forced to drop captain Manuel Neuer’s plans to wear a rainbow-themed “OneLove” armband after threats from FIFA of disciplinary action on the field.
Leaders of several European countries initially hoped to wear rainbow armbands, which was seen as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, the World Cup host nation, where homosexuality is prohibited.
The Dutch camp said they would not discuss any issues other than football since they invited a group of migrant workers to a training session at their headquarters in Doha last week.
Van Gaal doubled down on that decision ahead of the Group A clash in Doha between two teams who won their opening matches in the tournament. “We are here to become world champions,” Van Gaal said in his pre-match press conference.