A SPECTACULAR light show opened the round of 16 of the World Cup in Qatar. And 10 minutes later, a spectacularly-worked team goal gave the Netherlands the lead against the United States before they added another in added time at the end of the first half to all but kill off the contest at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday evening. The Americans added a bit of life to the game with a goal in the second half but Denzel Dumfries quickly snuffed off their hopes by adding a goal to go along with his two assists.
The 3-1 allowed the Dutch to cruise into the quarter-finals and it was a tactical masterclass by their cancer-stricken coach Louis van Gaal that undid the Americans. The Netherlands allowed the high-pressing, high intensity Americans more of the ball but defended with two banks of four close to each other. It cut off the channels for Gregg Berhalter’s men and when the Dutch came at them, they never had the bodies at the back.
Both Memphis Depay and Daley Blind, the only members of this current Dutch selection that had been at a World Cup before, had so much time and space when taking their first-time finishes that even if they had taken a touch, the shot would still have been on. When Dumfries got the third, running in at the back post, there was no one to mark him.
The game, however, had started with Christian Pulisic having time to pick his spot at the other end. Slipped through by Tyler Adams’ reverse pass, Pulisic’s shot was deflected away by the outstretched shin of goalkeeper Andries Noppert.
That was as good as it got for the United States as minutes later, the Dutch had the lead.
Davy Klassen, on edge of the centre circle in his own half, played the ball behind to Frenkie De Jong, whose one-touch release set free Cody Gakpo, only the second player in the history of the World Cup to have scored a goal in each of the three group games. Gakpo found the charging Dumfries on the right and his cutback was emphatically sidefooted home by Depay.
Berhalter, who stood at the edge of his technical area for the entirety of the game, knew his side were up against it here. But the pattern of the game continued, the United States keeping the ball but unable to do much with it.
The Dutch defence had little to do until the closing minutes of the first half, when Timothy Weah got more involved in the game; the 22-year-old stinging Noppert’s palms with a snapshot. Then Serginho Dest bombed down from the right flank only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle. It proved to be just a flash in the pan as it was the Dutch who closed the half with another goal.
The Americans failed to properly deal with a throw-in down the right and Klassen sent Dumfries through; the right wingback having the time to find the perfect pass for Blind to steer home with a shot that left goalkeeper Matt Turner rooted to the spot.
Berhalter knew that to change the game, he needed to make a change and threw on Giovanni Reyna for the ineffective Jesus Ferreira at half-time. They tried to go direct and almost got a reward; Tim Ream seeing a scrambled effort saved on the line and Weston McKennie shooting high and wide. In between those two attempts, Depay had tested Turner from long-range.
Midfielder McKennie was soon withdrawn as Berhalter added another striker in Haji Wright but it was the introduction of De Andre Yedlin that reaped immediate rewards in the 76th minute. The Dutch failed to properly clear a corner and Yedlin slipped through Pulisic on the right and his low cross saw Wright get a fortunate touch that saw the ball loop up and over the defence and into the back of the net.
A chaotic interlude followed as the Americans searched for an equaliser with chances at both ends but Dumfries restored the balance with seven minutes to go, running in from the right to meet Blind’s cross from the left. The American Dream of emulating their class of 2002, which made the quarter-finals was over. But the Dutch dream of finally winning the World Cup in Van Gaal’s last tournament as coach goes on.
Van Gaal led the Dutch to the semi-finals in their last appearance at the World Cup eight years ago in Brazil. Then, they had been undone by Argentina, who could well be their next opponents in Qatar.
“We believe in ourselves, and our ability,” Gakpo told reporters. “We’re growing at the tournament, improving with every game and this is another step forward.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022