World Cup: Netherlands players hit by flu symptoms spreading among teams in Qatar
Players and coaches on several teams have been hampered by flu symptoms in this World Cup with the Netherlands, which plays the U.S. in a round-of-16 knockout game Saturday, the latest to be hit.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal confirmed Friday that several players were ill but declined to say how many. The team skipped its normal training session Friday although Van Gaal told Dutch media he expects all 26 players on his roster to be available “in principle” for the U.S. game. However his reluctance to be more specific led to speculation the situation may be more serious than Van Gaal would acknowledge.
USMNT star Christian Pulisic suffered a pelvic bruise earlier this week at the World Cup but has been cleared to play Saturday against the Netherlands.
Brazil, Spain and the U.S. have also had members of their delegations become ill, with many blaming the air conditioning in Qatar, which is so omnipresent it’s also used to cool the pitches during games. But going from warm outside temperatures, which have hovered in the high 80s for most of the tournament, into rooms — and even stadiums — chilled to as much as 20 degrees cooler, has led to bouts of coughing, sore throats, heavy chests, a shortage of breath and other ailments.
Brazilian winger Antony blamed the air conditioning for his health problems.
“We had it also,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Almost every staff member had it. I was, the first week or two, really, really bad. Now it’s much better, breathing a lot better.”
Dutch coach: U.S. has ‘an excellent team’
Van Gaal, who took the Netherlands to the World Cup semifinals in 2014 and hasn’t lost since returning to the Dutch national team 15 months ago, praised the U.S., his opponent in Saturday’s elimination game.
“That is a very energetic squad with physically strong players. And that’s very tough for any opponent,” he said Friday.
“The USA has demonstrated that it has an excellent team,” he added. “I would say it’s one of the best teams.”
Van Gaal noted the U.S. team, the second-youngest in the World Cup, includes 17 players off European clubs, including all 11 starters in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Iran. The team’s progress from non-qualifier in 2018 to the round of 16 this year was impressive, he said.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and some players learned keys to soccer in the Netherlands. Now the Americans aim to knock the Dutch out of the World Cup.
“They have developed well and quickly,” he said. “That is typically American. They also have players at top European clubs. I am not surprised that they are through. After the first group match, I already expected them to continue.”
Van Gaal also praised Berhalter, who learned many of his coaching philosophies during his playing days in Holland.
“What I observe is a vision. What I see is a team that is keen to execute that vision, which is of the utmost importance,” he said. “And I see the conviction, especially the conviction of the players. So that for a coach must be fantastic.”
Belgium coach resigns after World Cup loss
The early exit of No. 2 Belgium from the World Cup also led to the exit of the team’s coach, Roberto Martinez, who Friday announced he was stepping down after six years. Martinez led Belgium to a third-place finish in 2018, its best-ever performance at the tournament.
Belgium won just once in three group-play games in Qatar, getting eliminated in the first round for just the second time since 1982.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.