Tue, Jul 29, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Dutch team out to prove themselves worthy of gold

AFP , HONG KONG

Roy Makaay, left, and Hedwiges Maduro of the Dutch Olympic soccer team warm up during their training session for the ING Cup in Hong Kong on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

The Netherlands aim to use a four-team tournament in Hong Kong to fine-tune their game for the Olympics and demonstrate why they are major contenders to take soccer gold in Beijing.

The Dutch, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and USA play in the ING Cup in Hong Kong tomorrow and on Saturday, which will help them acclimatize to the heat and humidity before they head north for the full Olympic tournament.

The Games begin on Aug. 8, but the men’s 16-team soccer starts a day earlier, with the Netherlands among the favorites along with Argentina, Brazil and Italy. Ivory Coast are tipped to be the strongest of the three African sides.

The 18-man under-23 squads can include three overage players, and Dutch coach Foppe De Haan will be hoping he has got the balance just right, with two of the senior members of the contingent paired upfront.

But a batch of the young Dutch players, notably Liverpool’s flying winger Ryan Babel and Real Madrid’s Royston Drenthe, are expected to light up the Games where Brazil’s Ronaldinho will also play.

‘MATCH FIT’

Babel, 21, is fast recovering from an ankle injury that forced him to miss last month’s European Championships with the full national team, and he played 45 minutes in a labored 1-0 friendly victory over Belgium last Wednesday.

“It’s exciting to be in Hong Kong as we’re getting closer to the Olympics and I expect to be fully match fit by then,” said Babel, whom Liverpool splashed out £11.5 million (US$22 million) on last summer.

“I think it will be quite open, as every team playing there has a good chance,” he said on the team’s arrival in a sweltering Hong Kong on Sunday.

The Dutch play Nigeria, Japan and USA in Beijing in what looks a reasonably comfortable group before the knock-out stages, and De Haan hopes games against Cameroon and Ivory Coast in Hong Kong will be the perfect preparation.

The 65-year-old was concerned about the fitness of some of his players in the Belgium friendly.

“Most have done their bit during their holidays, but others have been flat on their backs for a few weeks. That was the outcome of the tests we did with the players, they weren’t all positive results,” the coach said.

“For this tournament you must be totally fit and healthy, otherwise you’ll fall through after five seconds,” De Haan told Dutch soccer’s official Web site, identifying Nigeria as their toughest opponents in the Olympic group.

Cameroon, who won gold in Sydney in 2000, are not expected to do nearly so well this time, so Ivory Coast look likely to provide the Dutch with their stiffest test in Hong Kong, particularly as they will be more comfortable in the heat, with temperatures around 33˚C.

QUARTER-FINAL HOPES

In Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou they have a player of genuine ability, albeit one who has yet to set the English Premier League alight.

“At the Olympics, our objective is to reach the quarter-finals. The team have been playing good, attacking soccer and the players are finding each other very well when pushing forward,” coach Gerard Gili said.

USA is rated among the weaker teams in Beijing but one-time prodigy Freddy Adu will be eager to prove on the international stage that he can live up to the hype of his early years.

The ING Cup kicks off tomorrow with Ivory Coast taking on USA while Cameroon play the Netherlands.

This story has been viewed 2740 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top