Vol. 5 Num 729 Fri. June 16, 2006  

'Points are vital'

Dutch playmaker Giovanni van Bronckhorst said the Netherlands were aiming to ease their passage into the second round from the World Cup's group of death with a win over Ivory Coast on Friday.

The Dutch notched up a 1-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro in the first Group C clash Sunday, while the Africans battled hard before succumbing 2-1 to Argentina in what is quite rightly dubbed the group of death.

"In our group, all points are very vital," van Bronckhorst said after an open training session here Tuesday.

"It's clear that we've got four very strong teams (in the group). There's been a one-goal difference in both games so far.

"For our next game against Ivory Coast, if we win that we are almost in the second round. We want to qualify as soon as possible, and don't want to have to go into the third game having to secure a win."

The 31-year-old Barcelona star said that thoughts, however, were not focused on topping the table.

"Of course we want to finish top but the most important thing is to get through from this group."

Dutch coach Marco van Basten said he expected Ivory Coast, led from the front by Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, to be difficult opponents.

But he added: "Ivory Coast changed a lot of players and also their system. What we can do is just focus on ourselves.

"We have to wait until we see their list of players on the day of the game before deciding which tactics to employ," van Basten said.

The win in the opener against Serbia and Montenegro, however, had given the team confidence, van Basten said, despite an unusually high number of technical errors which he put down to nerves, the heat and the dry condition of the pitch in Leipzig.

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who suffered badly from cramps in that match, trained separately from the rest of the squad at Freiburg on Tuesday.

But van Basten insisted that his captain would take the field come Friday.

"He will be fit. He has a little bit of a problem with his calf, but it's only light, not a big problem," he said.

The coach also gave his backing to van der Sar's club team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy, who was subdued against the Serbs and replaced after 69 minutes.

"He's an experienced player. I've played a lot of games at a high level and sometimes you play good, sometimes bad, that's football," van Basten said, adding that he had "absolute" confidence in his striker returning to form.

Van Basten also poured more cold water on comments by Robin van Persie that fellow winger Arjen Robben had been too selfish in the Serbia game, despite the Chelsea winger scoring the winning goal and the man-of-the-match accolade.

"We discussed it a little bit with the two players and also said something about the situation generally to the whole team.

"It's never been an issue for us."

Van Basten also hinted that influential Hamburg midfielder Rafael van der Vaart might be in line for a call-up for the Ivory Coast game, possibly at the expense of Wesley Sneijder, largely ineffective against the Serbs.

"He is 100 percent fit," the coach said of van der Vaart. "It's very good for us because he is a big player. He is getting closer to the first eleven and that's only positive for the team."

Dutch forward Ruud Van Nistelrooy with the ball in his hand perhaps seeking advice from his striking partner Arjen Robben of how to score at Freiburg stadium. Ivory Coast and the Netherlands face off in Stuttgurt on Friday. PHOTO: AFP