Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk admits he feels for former Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane in his battle to be fit for the World Cup.
The Dutch face Senegal in their opening group match on Monday but Van Dijk does not expect to see Mane, who left Anfield for Bayern Munich in the summer, lining up against him as the forward is doubtful with an injury to his right fibula.
Van Dijk knows all about missing major tournaments with injury as a torn anterior cruciate ligament ruled him out of the Covid-delayed Euro 2020.
He has spoken to Mane, who has nevertheless been included in Senegal’s squad despite his injury scare, and has a lot of sympathy with his situation.
“I don’t think he will play (against Holland),” he said.
“I was feeling sad for him, first and foremost. I’m not happy in this case as I’ve been in that situation where I missed the Euros.
“We as players work so hard to get to this stage and he has been such an important figure in that group for their country.
“I know for a fact that he will put a brave face on it, but it’s tough and I feel sorry for him.”
Van Dijk arrives in Qatar intending to enjoy his first major tournament after realising a boyhood dream of playing in a World Cup.
That it has taken the centre-back until the age of 31 to play in a top-level event is largely due to injury and his country’s failure to qualify for the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup.
The event, which the hosts kick off on Sunday, has become political with its timing – coming in the middle of the European season – and human rights issues.
And while Van Dijk does not want to be dragged into the debate about whether players should or should not be making a stand in the Middle East, he is prepared to speak out.
“I’m really excited about playing against the best players in world football, leading out my country and representing my country in the best way possible,” he said.
“For me it is a boyhood dream. I’m 31 now but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to enjoy this as much and maybe it is an even better time for me to go there because of everything that I have experienced and also we have a great group so I am very excited about it.
“I’m fully focused on the first game and I think people higher up really should make a difference.
“Obviously when we’re there, we have eyes as well. We will see things and always as a group if we feel we can make a change, we will be open to that.
“But we shouldn’t be forced to do certain things which maybe you’re not comfortable with. We can always try and make an impact on everything that’s happening but I’m a football player.
“I’m a human being and you guys know exactly that I’m not shy about saying exactly what I think, that’s definitely the case.
“We’ll see what happens, but the first thing is football. I’m not a politician. FIFA is definitely one of the responsible ones it starts with.”