Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk insists he is not haunted by his Euro 2020 injury heartbreak as the countdown begins to his first World Cup.
The Netherlands captain, whose country’s failure to qualify for Russia in 2018 followed a similar fate for the European Championship two years previously, has yet to play in a major tournament.
A knee injury in a Merseyside derby in October 2020 meant he missed the Covid-delayed 2020 Euros so, at the age of 31, Qatar could potentially be his one and only chance to feature in a World Cup.
But the Dutchman has no apprehension about the next couple of months and will certainly not be holding back in club matches in an attempt to safeguard his immediate future.
“I can only speak for myself and I wouldn’t worry about me,” said Van Dijk, who will lead his country in Nations League matches against Poland and Belgium over the next week.
“I want to go but to be ready, in my opinion, is not to focus on hopefully not getting injured, it is just to keep playing, get fit, stay fit and get in a good moment.
“If you think about [getting injured], I think you are going to have issues in my opinion.
“It is just game-by-game and that includes international football. For me it is two games against Poland and Belgium and then it is Brighton, so that will be the focus. I’m not focusing on what is happening in November.”
Van Dijk spent 10 months on the sidelines after a tackle by Everton’s England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford ruptured knee ligaments.
He returned for the start of the 2021/22 campaign and, despite concerns over how quickly he would get back to his best, he made an immediate impact and was a key part of the run towards an unprecedented quadruple which saw Liverpool win the FA and Carabao Cups, reach the Champions League final and take the title race to the last 15 minutes of the season.
Liverpool’s start this year has been a stuttering one with two defeats – already half the number they had in 63 matches last season – and three draws in eight games.
The players’ form – including Van Dijk’s – has been sketchy, but the centre-back does not believe the prospect of the World Cup coming mid-season is the reason.
“Not at all, not at all. I can assure you that is definitely not the case,” he added.
“We are not in the situation because of that. I understand, because of the start we had, everyone is looking for ‘why?’ because the difference [to last season] is too big, but I can assure you that is definitely not one of the reasons.
“You focus on the game at the time and that’s definitely what we’re doing.”