The Story So Far
As expected and predicted on FTN, Netherlands finished top of Group A. While it was rather comfortable in the end on paper with 7 points taken from their three matches (W2 D1), it was far from convincing overall.
The Dutch failed to have a shot on target until eventually breaking the deadlock in the 84th minute of their first group game against Senegal. They were a lot quicker off the mark in their next outing against Ecuador taking a 6th minute lead, but didn’t have another attempt on target in the entire match, which they ended up drawing 1-1. A comfortable win over hosts and group whipping boys Qatar in their third game papered over some of the cracks.
The main concern has been around Louis van Gaal’s style of play which has been perceived as being too negative. A 3-4-1-2 formation instead of the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 and more of an emphasis on counter-attacking than taking the initiative in games. Although the manager was typically prickly in this response to such criticism, the statistics certainly gave credence to that viewpoint.
Van Gaal has never been one to bow to public pressure and stubbornly stuck to his guns for the last 16 clash with USA. His side again ended up with less possession, but schooled their less experienced opponentsusing the American energy and enthusiasm against them with a calculated and clinical performance. There was even a something for the purists with a 20-pass build-up to Memphis Depay’s opening goal, a homage to the Dutch “Total Football” of years gone by.
This Holland squad doesn’t have the same quality of the one that reached the final in 2010 with the likes or Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, let alone the teams that boasted the Cruyffs, Van Bastens, Bergkamps, Neeskens’ or Gullits. The football could be more attractive on the eye, but Van Gaal seems to be getting the maximum in terms of efficiency out of this group of players.
The Star So Far
Cody Gakpo, Picked out on FTN as the “One to Watch”, Gakpo has transferred his blistering club form with PSV onto the world stage. The youngster scored in all three group games and the Netherlands would've struggled without his impact in the final third. His versatility has been highlighted by the fact that he scored with his head, his left foot and his right foot. A supreme talent.
How Netherlands Can Win
This is one game where no one will criticise Van Gaal for being more cautious in his approach. The first port of call for virtually every manager coming up against Argentina will be how to stop Lionel Messi. If the Dutch can get players around Messi and prevent him being an influence on the game, they could nullify Argentina. Easier said than done.
Netherlands will likely concede possession but their pace in the transitions could provide a real threat to Argentina’s questionable defence. Memphis and Gakpo up front are the obvious dangermen but Denzel Dumfries provides another important attacking outlet from right-wingback.
The Dutch have yet to be truly tested in this tournament and haven’t gone behind in any of their games. It would be interesting to see how they’d react if Argentina score first and they were forced to become more proactive. Van Gaal hasn’t had to use a Plan B because Plan A has been working so far, but he could be forced to show tactical versatility in this contest.
The Story So Far
Argentina expectedly finished top of what looked a relatively straightforward group on paper, but the road was far from smooth.
The tournament started with one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when Saudi Arabia came from behind to win and end their 36-match unbeaten run. There was immense pressure on their second group match against Mexico and after more than an hour of tension, Lionel Messi stepped up to the plate to inspire his side to victory. The final group game against Poland was slightly more comfortable – despite Messi missing an early penalty.
The last 16 brought unexpected opposition in Australia who had just about exhausted their potential by even reaching that stage. Messi was again the difference with a well taken opening goal but there were nervy moments towards the end when the Socceroos pulled it back to 2-1. Emi Martinez needed some crucial saves.
All in all, it’s been far from convincing from Argentina, especially given the fact that they have yet to play truly elite opposition. Nevertheless, it has often been said that teams can “play their way into tournaments” and La Albiceleste will be hoping that’s the case here.
The Star So Far
Lionel Messi. This has been the least surprising aspect of Argentina’s World Cup campaign. Messi looks like a man on mission to achieve the final piece in the jigsaw, the one accolade that is missing from his already decorated career. He is often seen strolling around the field not doing much but there is an air of expectancy whenever the ball arrives at his feet and the entire stadium gets up off their chairs. Messi will face his toughest test yet against a stubborn Dutch defence but if anyone can break them down, it’s him.
How Argentina Can Win
The obvious answer would be to get the ball into Messi as often as possible. Almost all of Argentina’s attacks go through him, but it would be naive to think that a coach with the tactical nous of Louis Van Gaal won’t have a plan to deal with him. The supporting cast of players such as Julian Alvarez, Rodrigo de Paul, Alexis Mac Allister and possibly Angel di Maria will need to best utilise the space that could be afforded to them if the Dutch are too preoccupied with Messi.
Another factor that might favour Lionel Scaloni’s men is the fans. Argentina have been one of the most well supported teams in Qatar and this will likely feel like a home game for them.
Despite a couple of clean sheets, they look vulnerable defensively. The collapse from 1-0 up in the first game against Saudi Arabia was alarming and even a team with the limited attacking talent of Australia almost clawed their way back into the game. Netherlands have real pace up front and could find joy down the Argentina left where Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Acuña are both in their thirties and not the quickest.
While having a player of Messi’s calibre is obviously an advantage, it can also be a hinderance if there’s an overreliance on him. Argentina have already needed him to bail them out of sticky situations and they have yet to face what would be considered a truly top team.
Netherlands 1-1 Argentina A.E.T (Netherlands win on Penalties)
Expect a tight and tactical contest. The last two times these nations have met at World Cups, both games have ended 0-0 and Argentina won on penalties in 2014. The Dutch and Van Gaal to capture revenge this time.
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