Louis van Gaal has called on the Netherlands to replicate their 2014 World Cup semi-final performance to contain Lionel Messi in Friday’s quarter-final clash with Argentina.
Van Gaal’s side reached the last eight with a 3-1 win over the United States on Saturday, while Argentina joined them by beating Australia 2-1 as Messi scored his first World Cup knockout goal.
Friday’s match will represent the sixth World Cup meeting between the two teams. Only two fixtures have been played more often at the tournament – Brazil versus Sweden and Argentina versus Germany (both seven).
Argentina triumphed on penalties after the last such fixture finished goalless in 2014’s semi-finals, when Van Gaal was in the second of his three spells with the Oranje, and he says they must replicate their defensive work from that game to keep Messi quiet.
“Of course, Messi is the most important player for them, the most creative. Those are always the most important players,” he told De Telegraaf.
“Eight years ago at the World Cup in Brazil, we succeeded well in neutralising Messi. He didn’t hit a ball then.
“We thought we were the better team, but we eventually lost on penalties. I can’t back it up with facts any more, but that’s my memory.
“I substituted to win the game in regular time. Unfortunately, that did not work out. In retrospect, it may have been a stupid decision.”
Excluding shoot-outs, Van Gaal is unbeaten in his 11 World Cup matches as a coach (W8 D3). If the Netherlands avoid defeat against Argentina, he will equal ex-Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari’s record of 12 games without defeat from the start of a World Cup managerial career.
Despite criticism of the Netherlands’ style, Van Gaal believes they have grown into the tournament after several players overcame fitness issues.
“I believe in the team over the individual player,” he added. “It is not the case that we have already achieved top form as a team. We can be much better, that’s what I’ve always said.
“There is an upward trend. You should also not forget how we arrived with these 26 players. There were players who were not match fit. We had to build them up and so on.
“Much of that is now behind us. Memphis [Depay] can now play 90 minutes, for example. More were sick, weak, or nauseous. That is getting better.
“With our tactical plan we can surprise the opponent. That has been proven several times. These guys haven’t lost under my leadership.”
No team has appeared in more World Cup finals without winning than the Netherlands (three), and while Van Gaal believes they have the ability to lift the trophy, he acknowledges they are not favourites.
“I said that we can become world champions with this squad,” Van Gaal said. “I didn’t say we’re going to be world champions, but we can be.
“If we don’t become world champions in the end, because there can only be one, I don’t think you can say we failed.”
11 –‘s Daley Blind is the fifth player in history to play more than ten games at the World Cup without ever losing (11 games – 8 won, 3 drawn). Talisman.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan)