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Soccer-Time to focus on the World Cup says Van Gaal

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By Steve Keating

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) – It’s time to put the ‘OneLove’ debate and other controversies aside and focus on the World Cup, Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal said on Thursday as his team prepared to meet Ecuador in a contest that could decide the top spot in Group A.

With the Netherlands and Ecuador both coming off 2-0 wins in their openers the meeting at Khalifa International Stadium on Friday carries added significance and Van Gaal does not want his men distracted from the task at hand.

The Netherlands were among seven countries ready to wear ‘OneLove’ armbands during the World Cup in Qatar until FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, threatened to book any player wearing them.

The ‘OneLove’ armbands were originally launched in 2020 as part of an inclusiveness campaign by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) which said on Wednesday they were considering legal action against FIFA over their ruling.

Germany’s players protested against FIFA’s decision on Wednesday by covering their mouths before kickoff as a symbolic gesture and then walked out and lost 2-1 to Japan.

Van Gaal said he did not know if the protest contributed to Germany’s shock defeat only that he was not going to take the chance of anything distracting his men against Ecuador.

“No”, said Van Gaal when asked if his team were planning any protest. “We put a full stop after all the political issues last Thursday.

“We have this purpose and we’re not going to have that tarnished by the actions of FIFA or any other organization.

“But I’ve already responded … I think that’s enough.”

Defender Denzel Dumfries, who will have his hands full with Enner Valencia after the forward got both goals in Ecuador’s 2-0 win over hosts Qatar, echoed Van Gaal’s view, saying it was time for the three-time finalists to concentrate on winning games.

“We paid a lot of attention to this (OneLove),” said Dumfries. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve really talked about it a lot. But we came to Qatar to play football. That’s what we’re focusing on.

“We’ve said what we need to say, and from now on we need to concentrate on playing football.”

While Ecuador have set their target of reaching the last 16, as they did in Germany in 2006, the Dutch will aim for a vastly improved performance against the South Americans to back up Van Gaal’s assertion that they can go on and win the World Cup.

The Netherlands were far from their efficient best in beating African champions Senegal 2-0 and are wary of an Ecuadorian side that they see as a far bigger challenge.

“It (Ecuador) is a stable team,” said Van Gaal. “They’re physically strong with very clever players, shrewd players, which is why I believe that they are tougher than Senegal.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)