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‘I’m very hopeful’

Robben hard at work on swift recovery

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His hamstring is not as badly damaged as originally feared, but Netherlands ace Arjen Robben is now in a race against time. After a first round of treatment, the Bayern winger is confident of joining his national squad in South Africa very soon, “although I can’t say whether it’ll be four days or a week,” the player said after a first sport rehab session in Rotterdam.

“I’m very hopeful. We’ll have to see how fast I start making progress,” continued the 26-year-old, who is currently being treated by renowned physiotherapist Dick van Toorn. The player also spoke to Bayern staff and FCB club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt at the weekend.

Team-mates rooting for Arjen

The news was warmly received in the Dutch camp. “The mood’s good. We’re smiling again after hearing the positive news from Arjen,” commented Netherlands FA chairman Henk Kessler after the national squad’s first workout at the Wits University facility in Johannesburg.

The players reckon their star will be back among them soon. “I think Arjen will be here by Friday or Saturday,” said midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, also a beneficiary of van Toorn’s healing hands in the past. Robben’s Munich team-mate Mark van Bommel emphasised the winger’s importance to the Netherlands set-up. “Arjen is a player who can make the difference, which is why he’s so important to us,” said the Bayern skipper.

Time is at a premium, as the Elftal open their World Cup campaign on 14 June against Denmark, with further group matches against Japan on 19 June and Cameroon on 24 June. After winning the domestic double with Bayern, Robben has set his sights even higher. “I want to be part of it when the Netherlands win the World Cup,” he declared.

No more back-heeled trickery

Despite the injury setback, the superstar has not lost his sense of humour. “I guess I should leave out the stuff with back-heels,” he said. In the Netherlands’ 6-1 warm-up thrashing of Hungary at the weekend, Robben attempted a back-heeled flick towards Gregory van der Wiel, but caught his studs in the Amsterdam turf and pulled his left hamstring.

Bondscoach Bert van Marwijk has told Robben he has as much time as he needs. The former Borussia Dortmund boss will not nominate a replacement for Robben unless it becomes absolutely necessary. “I’m delighted he’s giving me time to recover and hasn’t called up anyone else,” the player responded.