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‘I’ll grit my teeth’

Van Bommel vows to play through the pain

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If Mark van Bommel could have wished for anything in the world on his birthday, it might well have been a new nose. The Dutch ace sustained a break to that particular facial organ in Saturday’s Cup final, a painful and irritating injury just as the season approaches its climax. But the player, who turned 31 on Tuesday, is renowned as a tough character and has declined medical advice to take a break, deferring corrective surgery until the end of the season.

A broken nose was in any case not a truly serious injury, Van Bommel said on his birthday. “I’ll have to grit my teeth, but it’s not that bad.“ An operation at the present time made little sense, he argued, as he would have been able to play in Thursday’s UEFA Cup semi-final versus Zenit St. Petersburg in any case. “But if I’d had the op, I wouldn’t have been able to train. And if I were to get another bang on the newly-repaired nose, it would break again.“

No mask

The midfielder has also declined to wear a protective mask over the injury, preferring to focus his full attention on St. Petersburg. The player has an additional reason to look forward to the meeting with the Russian champions, as he will meet up again with two former acquaintances, Dick Advocaat and Fernando Ricksen.

Van Bommel played under Advocaat, Zenit coach since 2006, for the Dutch national team. “He’s a small guy but a great coach,” Van Bommel said admiringly, praising the 60-year-old’s tactical nous and fluid 4-3-3 formation. Apart from the coach, Van Bommel’s friendship with midfielder Ricksen dates back to the period they spent together in the Fortuna Sittard youth section.

Sniff of goal

The 31-year-old is thus well-informed as to Zenit’s strengths and weaknesses. “They’re a good team playing technically refined football,” he reported, “we’ll have to keep it tight at the back and score as early as possible. We probably won’t get many chances.“

In other words, Bayern must be sure to take advantage whenever they get the merest sniff of goal. But despite Van Bommel’s problems in the nasal area, he was nevertheless in good spirits on his special day, especially thrilled at a birthday serenade performed by his three children for their dad: “That was what really mattered.“