ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) — Uncapped attacking midfielder Xavi Simons was included in the Netherlands’ World Cup squad on Friday, while veteran goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was left out of Coach Louis van Gaal’s roster for the tournament in Qatar.
Van Gaal has also selected injured stars Memphis Depay from Barcelona and Matthijs de Ligt from Bayern Munich in his 26-man squad.
Depay, who has scored 42 goals in 81 international appearances, has not played since suffering 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 hasn’t (fully) recovered,” Van Gaal said, adding that it was against his usual policy to select injured players. “But Memphis has been so important to this group – not just as a football player but as a person, so yes, I’ve kept a spot open for him.”
He described Depay as “medically fit”, but added that he would not be ready for the Netherlands’ opener on November 21 against Senegal – probably their toughest opponent in the group stage – but that he might be able to replace him.
“So it’s… a risk for the group, but he’s our top scorer and king of assists. We can’t change that,” Van Gaal said.
Simons, 19, was called up with a strong first half of the domestic season with Dutch league leaders PSV Eindhoven after being transferred from Paris Saint-Germain. Born in Amsterdam, the player named after Spain’s World Cup winner Xavi Hernández, came through Barcelona’s youth academy before moving to Paris.
In an Instagram post, Simons called her selection a dream come true. “Words can’t describe how I’m feeling right now!!!!” he said.
One of the surprise omissions was Cillessen, who was replaced by Van Gaal shortly before a penalty shootout in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals against Costa Rica. Van Gaal brought in reserve keeper Tim Krul who saved two penalties as the Netherlands won to advance to the semi-finals, where they lost to Lionel Messi’s Argentina – also after penalties.
Van Gaal said leaving out Cillessen came down to one simple reason.
“He hasn’t been in good shape for the past few weeks. And the World Cup is now, not in five weeks,” he said.
Van Gaal said he doesn’t yet know who his first-choice keeper will be.
“The only really fit goalkeeper is Andries Noppert,” Van Gaal said of the uncapped Heerenveen player.
Van Gaal’s side also face Ecuador and hosts Qatar in the group stage.
The Netherlands have reached three World Cup finals – in 1974, 1978 and 2010 – and lost them all. The country’s only major title came at the 1988 European Championship.
Van Gaal hopes his current team can do better.
“We have a great chance of becoming world champions as well,” he said. “There are few coaches who dare to speak 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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