Soccer-Stekelenburg first-choice for Dutch but De Ligt to miss Ukraine game

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Premier League - Newcastle United v Everton
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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands have chosen 38-year-old Maarten Stekelenburg as their first-choice goalkeeper for the European Championship but will have to do without key central defender Matthijs de Ligt for their opening Group C match against Ukraine on Sunday.

Coach Frank de Boer confirmed that Stekelenburg, who only returned to regular action this year, would play in goal.

"Stekelenburg is number one. It was a difficult choice. All respect for Tim (Krul), but I choose Maarten," he said.

But De Ligt, who suffered a groin injury last week during their training camp in Portugal, was not yet ready to play, the coach told a news conference on the eve of the match.

"The clash with Ukraine comes a little too early for Matthijs. We don't want to take any risks. We have two more group matches after this," said De Boer.

"If it had been a do-or-die game, we could have taken the risk. He is very close to being ready, so we expect that he will be back in the next game. That is what his rehabilitation is now focused on."

De Ligt’s absence means teenager Jurrien Timber will start some 10 days after his debut, playing in a five-man defence alongside Stefan de Vrij and Daley Blind in Amsterdam.

Jasper Cillessen was supposed to be first-choice keeper for the tournament but when he contracted the COVID-19 virus De Boer decided to drop him.

It was then expected that long-standing deputy Tim Krul would step up to the role but De Boer has gone instead for the oldest player at the tournament.

The return of Stekelenburg has an element of good fortune about it. He was signed by Ajax Amsterdam last June on a one-year contract as cover for Andre Onana.

But when first-choice Ajax keeper Onana got a one-year ban from UEFA in February for violating doping rules Stekelenburg returned to their lineup.

Onana said the violation was a mistake, as he accidentally took a medicine meant for his girlfriend, and the ban was cut to nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on appeal.

It was Stekelenburg's first league outing in almost four years after playing only 14 times for Everton from November 2016 to the end of last season.

Within the space of two months he had won a recall to the national team and played his first match in almost five years for the Netherlands last Sunday.

Stekelenburg, who won the first of his 59 caps in 2004, played in goal when the Netherlands reached the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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