ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) — Uncapped attacking midfielder Xavi Simons was included Friday in the Netherlands’ World Cup squad, while veteran goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen did not make coach Louis van Gaal’s roster for the tournament in Qatar.
Van Gaal also selected injured stars Memphis Depay of Barcelona and Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt in his 26-player squad.
Depay, who has scored 42 goals in 81 internationals, hasn’t featured since incurring a hamstring injury while playing for the Netherlands against Poland in September. De Ligt is recovering from a knee injury.
“Memphis Depay is still injured or not (fully) recovered,” Van Gaal said, adding that it was against his normal policy to select injured players. “But Memphis has been so important to this group — not only as a football player, but also as a person, so, yes, I have kept a place open for him.”
He described Depay as “medically fit” but added that he would not be ready to start the Netherlands’ opening match on Nov. 21 against Senegal — likely its toughest opponent in the group stage — but might be able to come on as a substitute.
“So that’s … a risk for the group, but he is our top scorer and king of assists. We can’t change that,” Van Gaal said.
Simons, 19, earned his call-up with a strong first half of the domestic season with Dutch league leader PSV Eindhoven after transfering from Paris Saint-Germain. Born in Amsterdam, the player named in honor of Spain World Cup winner Xavi Hernández, went through Barcelona’s youth academy before moving to Paris.
In a post on Instagram, Simons called his selection a dream come true. “Words cannot describe how I feel right now!!!!” he said.
One of the surprise omissions was Cillessen, who famously was substituted by Van Gaal shortly before a penalty shootout in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals against Costa Rica. Van Gaal brough on reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul who saved two penalties as the Netherlands won to advance to the semifinals, where it lost to Lionel Messi’s Argentina – also after penalties.
Van Gaal said leaving out Cillessen came down to a simple reason.
“He hasn’t been in form in recent weeks. And the World Cup is now, not in five weeks,” he said.
Van Gaal said he does not yet know who his first-choice goalkeeper will be.
“The only ‘keeper really in form is Andries Noppert,” Van Gaal said of the uncapped Heerenveen player.
Van Gaal’s team also plays Ecuador and host nation Qatar in the group stage.
The Netherlands has reached three World Cup finals — in 1974, ’78 and 2010 — and lost them all. The country’s only major title came at the 1988 European Championship.
Van Gaal hopes his current squad can go one better.
“We have a great chance of also becoming a world champion,” he said. “There are few coaches who dare to speak out like that, but I say this.”
Goalkeepers: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax)
Defenders: Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan), Daley Blind (Ajax)
Midfielders: Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Xavi Simons (PSV Eindhoven), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)
Forwards: Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Beşiktaş)
Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.
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