20221130 cody
File photo: Netherlands' Cody Gakpo Image Credit: Reuters

Zeist: Five players in the Netherlands squad to face World Cup finalist France in their opening European Championship qualifier have been sent home after contracting a viral infection.

Liverpool forward Cody Gakpo, Bayern Munich defender Matthijs de Ligt along with Sven Botman, Joey Veerman and Bart Verbruggen all left the training camp, the Dutch federation said on Thursday. It did not elaborate on the virus.

The departures were another blow to coach Ronald Koeman ahead of the first match of his second stint in charge of the national team. Already this week, Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and Ajax winger Steven Bergwijn dropped out due to injuries.

Koeman sought to play down the absences, saying he still had confidence in his team.

“I have two players in every attacking position," he said. "On paper, I have six forwards and that is enough for me.”

Koeman called up Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, Vitesse Arnhem's Kjell Scherpen and Inter Milan defender Stefan de Vrij as replacements for the five ill players.

The Netherlands plays France at the Stade de France on Friday in a Group B qualifier before returning home to take on Gibraltar on Monday in Rotterdam.

Koeman said France has great players all over the pitch, but singled out Kylian Mbappe , who scored a hat trick in the World Cup final, a player “who can change a game on his own.”