NATIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL, 7.45PM, SKY SPORTS
Netherlands v England
VIRGIL VAN DIJK is relishing facing Harry Kane for the second time in six days, knowing the England captain is not fully fit.
The pair went head-to-head in Saturday’s Champions League final as Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0, with Kane struggling to make an impact on his return after two months out with an ankle ligament injury.
Ahead of England’s game with Holland tonight in the Nations League semi-final, Dutch captain Van Dijk said: ‘He is a fantastic striker, one of the best in England, definitely the best for the national team.
‘But if you’re not 100 per cent fit it’ll be in your head if you get a bit of a knock or you might get a bit of pain when you pass it. I expected him to play [in Madrid] but I knew he wasn’t going to be 100 per cent.’
Van Dijk (above) simply responded ‘yes’ when jokingly asked if he had sobered up after the Reds’ European Cup celebrations, but conceded every player on show in Guimaraes tonight will be fatigued after a long, arduous season.
However, he suggested the Spurs players in England’s squad could be adversely affected by their Champions League heartbreak. ‘I remember last year when I came back feeling bad [from the Champions League final in Kiev], very disappointed for quite a while,’ he added.
‘It’s not easy to come back from it. If the Tottenham players play, they’ll want to show themselves and try and win the game. But, for me, it’s been easier this time than last year certainly. Physically it was tougher then, too.
‘Everything is fine now and, mentally, I’m in a better place. I’m ready. But ask anyone — both teams will say they’re not 100 per cent because everyone has had a full season behind them.’
Asked about the statistic which has gone viral showing no player had dribbled past him in his past 64 matches, the Dutchman replied: ‘I’ve read it, you can’t really miss it, everyone’s talking about it, but it’s not something I’m focusing on.’
Holland boss Ronald Koeman claimed his side have moved ‘closer’ to the World Cup semi-finalists since they last met in March 2018, a 1-0 win for England, and hinted Liverpool duo Van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum will start despite their Champions League exertions.
■ ENGLAND boss Gareth Southgate believes Holland are not all about Virgil van Dijk. The PFA players’ player of the year and Champions League winner is captain for his country, and Southgate said: ‘He is a top defender but everyone has their strengths, and things that can be exposed. Our challenge is to break him and his great young [centre-back] partner [Matthijs de Ligt] down. We’re playing a very good team, not one player.’
■ ENGLAND fans were involved in ugly clashes with police in Portugal last night ahead of their Nations League semi-final. Police charged supporters gathered at a fanzone after a number of fans had begun throwing bottles. A number of arrests were made, with some fans injured in the chaos. As many as 20,000 England supporters are in Portugal.