“I’m mentally and physically stronger now,” Ibrahim Afellay said after joining his Holland teammates on Monday evening, completing Bert van Marwijk’s 23-man squad.
The Barcelona player was referring to the serious knee injury that kept him out of the game for seven months. The Dutchman tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a training session last September and only returned to competitive action late last month. Yet, despite Afellay’s lack of rhythm, Holland boss Van Marwijk was happy to bring him on board.
“I appreciate the trust the coach is giving me,” the 26-year-old attacking midfielder told international media reporters after a short training session at Hoenderloo in Holland’s wooded east. “Of course, I haven’t lost my skills. A street soccer player will always be a street soccer player. And besides, even players on form can have a lousy day.”
No playing time
Club commitments precluded Afellay from joining Holland’s pre-Euro 2012 campaign at an earlier stage. On Saturday, the Barcelona player attended his manager Pep Guardiola’s farewell party, a day after his team beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the Copa del Rey final.
Afellay remained on the substitutes’ bench the entire match, much to the chagrin of Bert van Marwijk, who would have preferred to see him get as much playing time as possible. If Barcelona knew Afellay would be benched, he could easily have joined Holland’s home match against Bulgaria, which ended in an embarrassing 2-1 defeat for the Dutch. And he could have played in last Tuesday’s friendly away at Bayern Münich, which Holland lost 3-2.
“I don’t seem to have missed much,” Afellay said on Monday night, jokingly. But there’s no doubt that Holland missed him. Van Marwijk knows he needs a creative player on the left to bolster his attacking line. The question is whether, after so many months out, Afellay can be expected to make a real difference and lift Holland out of the doldrums. He looks fit and relaxed, though, and his ambition and motivation are unaffected. “It felt like a nightmare. Recovery was a real struggle. But I’m back.”
Less pressure on defence
Afellay enthralled lovers of the game with his outstanding performance during the qualifying stage. He played a key role in Holland’s convincing wins away against Hungary (4-0) and at home against Sweden (4-1). On Wednesday, he’s likely to appear in a third pre-Euro friendly against Slovakia in Rotterdam.
Having a winger of his caliber up front will take the pressure off the Dutch defence, which looked very shaky during both fixtures last week. Doubts remain over centre-back Joris Mathijsen, who pulled up limp after just 16 minutes into the Bulgaria game.
An initial scan revealed no tear, but the severity of the injury has yet to be determined. Mathijsen may well miss out on Holland’s tournament opener against Denmark on 9 June.