DOHA: The Netherlands will not underestimate the United States when they meet in the World Cup last 16 this weekend, manager Louis van Gaal told a media conference on Friday that had almost as many questions about his future as it did about the knockout clash.
Van Gaal described Saturday’s opponents as very strong, while reporters from neighbouring Belgium made overtures for the combative coach to take over their national team after Roberto Martinez stepped down following Belgium’s exit on Thursday.
“You’ve got to convince my wife,” he told the Belgians, which prompted a follow-up question from an African reporter about whether or not he would be prepared to move there.
“I don’t think so but you’ve got to keep your options open,” Van Gaal joked, before getting back to the business in hand.
“The US has demonstrated that it has an excellent team, I would even say one of the best teams, a team that is fine-tuned [but] it’s nothing we can’t overcome,” Van Gaal added ahead of the game at the Khalifa International Stadium.
“The US that is a very energetic squad, they have physically strong players and that is tough for any opponent, and you can tell from their results, but we will do everything we can to win and to beat the US, that’s it.”
The Dutch made it through by winning Group ‘A’ with Senegal joining them in the last 16 as runners-up, but Van Gaal’s side have failed to impress so far, with the exception of forward Cody Gakpo, who netted three goals in their three group games.
As the Netherlands coach has done throughout the tournament, Van Gaal rejected criticism of his side’s performances.
“In principle I would say that we started off with a squad with lots of people who were not match fit, they’ve all been given the opportunity to play and we went through the group stage quite smoothly,” he said.
Striker Memphis Depay, who netted 12 goals in qualifying for the Dutch, has said his recent injury problems are behind him and that he would prefer to play alongside Steven Bergwijn with Gakpo as the playmaker, but Van Gaal quickly shot that down.
“These things happen, that players ventilate their views, but whether it’s sensible or not, that’s another issue. Everybody has their own opinion, particularly in the Netherlands,” the 71-year-old said.
The winners of Saturday’s game will advance to a quarter-final meeting with either Argentina or Australia on Dec. 9.
Meanwhile, US coach Gregg Berhalter said he will look to draw on the lessons he learnt in the Netherlands during his playing career when the two teams face off on Saturday.
Former American international Berhalter signed his first professional contract with Dutch side PEC Zwolle and also played for Sparta Rotterdam and Cambuur Leeuwarden during an 18-year playing career.
The US, who have not reached the quarter-finals since 2002, will be underdogs against three-time finalists Netherlands but will fancy their chances against a Dutch team that stuttered through the group stage.
“I learnt so much in Holland,” Berhalter old reporters on Friday. “It’s almost like, what concepts haven’t I taken from Dutch football? It was a great experience being there.
“After every training session and every game, you have a debate with your players about it. People love to discuss soccer and you really learn a lot. And it was a great time for me.
“If I wasn’t in Holland, I don’t think I would have had that background that really helped shape my ideas.”
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022