Virgil van Dijk has hit back at suggestions that Netherlands and other countries who backed down over wearing One Love armbands at the World Cup lacked “backbone”.
Seven nations, including Netherlands, England and Wales, made a late decision not to wear the armband due to the threat of sporting punishments including yellow cards for captains.
Instead, Van Dijk, Harry Kane and Gareth Bale wore FIFA’s ‘No Discrimination’ armbands for their opening games in Qatar.
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Ex-Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane said it was a “big mistake” not to wear the armbands while his former team-mate Rio Ferdinand accused the Football Association of “folding like a pack of cards”.
But Netherlands captain Van Dijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS after the 2-0 win over Senegal: “I play in a position where a yellow card is not useful. I became a football player and I want to play these kind of tournaments.
"There are people who say we don't have a backbone, but that's not how it works.
"We just want to play football. I would have loved to play with that band, but not at the expense of a yellow card."
England captain Harry Kane said he was disappointed not to be allowed to wear the One Love armband.
“I said yesterday we wanted to wear it,” Kane said after England’s 6-2 win over Iran.
“That decision was taken out of my hands today. I turned up to the stadium with the armband that I wore and I was told I had to wear that [the official Fifa one]. It’s out of our control as players.”
Jack Grealish called the decision “a bit stupid”.
“Harry himself wanted to wear it,” he told ITV.
“We all wanted Harry to wear it but sometimes in life and in football things are out of your control and there's not much you can do about it.
Netherlands needed late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen to beat Senegal and make a winning start in Group A.
Gakpo celebra su gol ante Senegal
Image credit: Getty Images
"We won but we also know that we can and must do better," said Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk.
"Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal's counter-attacks.
"That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at.
"But I am optimistic because I feel we are going to get better."
Netherlands play Ecuador in their next game on Friday.
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