Robben latest big name to join finals fitness race

Dutch face anxious wait on winger while Ivory Coast's Drogba has 'successful' surgery on broken elbow
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The Independent Football

A ball is yet to be kicked in this World Cup and yet many of the globe’s best players are already out. After England’s bad news on Friday, when Rio Ferdinand was forced to pull out with a knee injury, the Dutch winger Arjen Robben suffered a hamstring problem on Saturday. The Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba, meanwhile, is still battling to be fit.

Robben, 26, remained in the Netherlands for scans yesterday while the rest of the squad flew to South Africa. But the Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk, will now have to wait until today to find out whether his winger will be fit for the World Cup. The Bayern Munich player came on as a half-time substitute in the 6-1 thrashing of Hungary and scored two goals before being forced off with a hamstring injury.

It was expected that the results of the scans would be revealed yesterday but the Dutch FA last night admitted they will not be released until today. The initial fear was that Robben would not be able to play in the finals and Van Marwijk is concerned he will be deprived of arguably his most creative player. “I would rather have lost the game and still be able to take Arjen,” he said. “He felt a sharp sting and that does not bode well. But I have not yet lost hope.”

Van Marwijk will keep Robben in his squad and clings to the hope that he will still be able to travel to the finals. “I want to give him every chance to still participate in the World Cup,” he said. Robben’s team-mate Robin van Persie said it was the worst thing that could have happened to the squad:

“Everybody was shocked. This is a bit of a doomsday scenario. I find it unbelievable. Everyone was down.”

The Netherlands’ first game is on 14 June against Denmark, while they also face Japan and Cameroon.

Drogba, meanwhile, has undergone asuccessful operation on his fractured elbow, although his team did not say whether he would be able to play at the World Cup. “The necessary surgical intervention has been a success,” the Ivory Coast football federation said.

The federation added that medical staff were confident Drogba would make "a rapid recovery" but did not elaborate.

The 32-year-old striker was injured during Friday's 2-0 friendly win over Japan in Sion. Drogba, a talismanic figure for the Elephants with 43 goals in 67 appearances, limped off after a challenge from Marcus Tulio Tanaka sent him falling awkwardly to the ground after 15 minutes.

If he misses the World Cup it would be a huge blow to the Ivorians, who have been transformed from a middle-ranking team to a major force in African football since Drogba emerged. Born in Ivory Coast and raised in France, the Chelsea forward has helped them qualify for their first two World Cups in 2006 and 2010.

On Friday, vice-captain Kolo Touré said a dejected Drogba had told team-mates in the dressing room that he was out of the tournament, which starts on Friday.

"It's obviously very sad. For him, he said that the World Cup is finished. We're just waiting for what the doctor says," Touré said.

But as their coach Sven Goran Eriksson left the stadium, he said there was still a chance Drogba could play.

The Ivorians, who are holding a training camp in Saanenmoeser in the Swiss Alps, face Brazil, Portugal and North Korea in Group G.