Netherlands 3-1 USA: Talking points as Oranje book quarterfinals place

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Netherlands became the first team to have booked a place in the quarterfinals of the ongoing World Cup by beating the USA 3-1 in their round-of-16 clash at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar on Saturday.

The deadlock was broken by Memphis Depay in just under 10 minutes, and Daley Blind doubled his team’s lead in the final seconds of the first half. The American hope was rekindled in the 76th by a freak goal from Haji Wright, but Denzel Dumfries put the game beyond their reach by setting the final score in the 81st.

Mature Oranje display

Louis van Gaal’s team didn’t enter the game well, or at least that’s how it looked early on. But they showed an enviable level of maturity by absorbing the early pressure from the USA, and taking their chance to go up when is came.

Having been spent over 80 minutes of the clash in the lead, there was no cause for the Dutch to show any haste going forward. They were mostly happy to sit relatively deep and hold on, and the fact that the USA had the ball under their control more (59%) and took more shots (17-11 in total) did not come as surprise at the end.

Having walked through Group A with relative ease, it seems Netherlands have shown much more than they’ve been given credit for.

Andries Noppert

The Americans registered eight shots on target in this game, which means Andries Noppert in the Dutch goal made seven saves. Some of those saves were top class, worthy of the best goalkeepers out there, particularly the one on Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic very early on when Blind failed to step up with the rest of the defensive line to catch the Chelsea winger offside.

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Interestingly enough, Noppert is by no means a young player, being 28 years old, but this was his only fourth appearance as the Dutch No.1 – obviously all of them have come at this World Cup. He only has 34 Eredivisie appearances throughout his career, 14 of which have come this season with Heerenveen.

But standing almost 6’7” tall, he has not only shown great shot-stopping ability, but also a formidable command of his box, and even though he might be considered what most people would call a late bloomer, it seems Van Gaal has discovered a new No.1 for years to come. That is, of course, if whoever succeeds the 71-year-old tactician in the hot seat decides to keep him there.

Denzel Dumfries

But while Noppert’s contribution might be the biggest surprise of the tournament when it comes to Netherlands, nobody is really surprised by the quality of Dumfries. It seems Inter pulled of a great bargain when they sold Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain for around €70 million and signed Dumfries from PSV Eindhoven last year for less than €15m.

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Rightly named the Man of the Match, the 26-year-old was impeccable against the USA, marauding up and down the right flank tirelessly and making contribution at both ends of the pitch. He had a direct hand in all three goals his team scored, assisting both Depay and Blind, and scoring the third himself with an excellently controlled volley on the far post after being spotted and perfectly set up by Blind.

Speaking to the press recently, Dumfries was asked about links with Chelsea, who have been credited with interest in his services lately. And while he admitted being honored by such stories, he said it was also an honor to play for Inter Milan and insisted that he remained focused on the Nerazzurri, along with his national side.

The American project

football, or soccer as they usually refer to this sport, is becoming more popular every day in the country set between Canada and Mexico. There is more talk about the MLS in the European media these days, and the biggest stars of the game are usually open to spending a season or two there, albeit in their declining years.

As for the national team, they came to Qatar as a relatively young side, one which is expected to reach full maturity just in time for the next World Cup, set to take place in the USA itself, along with their northern and southern neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

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Coach Gregg Berhalter has put together a fine team, capable of causing problems for any opponent, as Netherlands discovered on Saturday. Whether they manage to achieve the success they aim for in four years remains to be seen, but they should really be proud of the way their players performed in Qatar. There’s certainly no shame in being among the top 16 sides in the world right now.

Netherlands to face Argentina

Duumfries is obviously an excellent player, but there’s very little doubt that the best in this Netherlands team remains their captain and clear leader on the pitch, Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool star was voted the second-best player on the planet as his team won the Champions League in 2019, but in the quarterfinals on this tournament, he will face the man who beat him to the award – seven time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

The 35-year-old was again the man behind Argentina’s triumph as he scored to get his team ahead against Australia in the round of 16, but at club level, Van Dijk’s Liverpool got the better of his Barcelona when last they met, in the semifinals of UEFA’s elite competition in 2019. It may be a worn-out cliche, but any contest those two players enter against each other is a clash of titans.

It will be an extremely exciting contest on Friday at the Lusail Stadium.

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