Netherlands dare Messi’s Argentina as quarterfinals begin
It is now the business end of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Qatar with the eight biggest teams in the competition ready to berth in the last four of the Copa du Mundo.
No other game holding anywhere in the world can be more exciting than an Argentina versus Holland clash or a Brazil against Croatia bout. These four teams have shown in the last two weeks that they are capable of going home with the FIFA World Cup trophy.
But today, only two of them will survive to fight in the semifinals. The battles are well poised, with an ambitious Holland side angling to expel an Argentine side brimming with so much confidence. And then, there is the almighty Brazil that have left football followers in awe of what they can do with the ball.
Football pundits have already narrowed the fight for the crown down to France and Brazil, forgetting that England, Croatia, which lost to France in the last final, Holland and Portugal are formidable foes that can topple the applecart on their day.
Expecting a tough battle with Argentina, Dutch captain, Virgil van Dijk, yesterday, deflected questions about his looming confrontation with Lionel Messi, but admitted the Netherlands would be cautious in their approach.
He stuck to the same line in fielding a flurry of enquiries about how he and his teammates will deal with the threat of Messi at Lusail Stadium.
“It’s not about me, or the Netherlands, against Messi — it’s about the Netherlands against Argentina,” he repeated several times at a news conference.
He said the Oranje were not worried by the current form of the Argentines, adding, however, that “they are a fantastic team with fantastic players, and we are going to have to do well in all departments of the match.”
Van Dijk said the Dutch are eager to break new ground and win a World Cup after losing in three finals. “There is a hunger, dreams and a feeling that we really want to get it (the World Cup),” he said.
“When you are in the quarterfinals you are only three games from glory. This is our opportunity. But obviously we have to get past an Argentina side with one of the best players of all time.”
The match has been tagged a battle of the youngest coach in the tournament against the oldest gaffer. And the possibility of it being Messi´s final game on soccer´s biggest stage just adds to the anticipation.
The seven-time world player of the year is three wins away from achieving his ultimate dream but he has two people, in particular, blocking his path.
First, the not inconsiderable frame of Van Dijk, who has been one of the world’s best defenders over the past five years. If there’s anyone able to stop Messi on one of his trademark dribbles, it is the graceful Liverpool center back, who combines pace with a great reading of the game.
And then there’s Louis van Gaal, the wily tactician who is 71, has recently undergone successful treatment for prostate cancer, and is now plotting to win the World Cup in perhaps the final job of his 26-year coaching career.
Van Gaal, who has long been one of the most charismatic characters in soccer, is approaching this task with a lot of fun – even on the eve of one of the biggest matches of his career.
Speaking on the danger posed by Messi to his team, Van Gaal said it would be stupid to reveal his strategy, adding, however, “you may want to block and close the passing lines.”
His Argentina counterpart, the 44-year-old Lionel Scaloni, is a comparative novice after taking charge of his country in 2018 for his first senior coaching role. Still, he has already led Argentina to the Copa America title last year – the country’s first major trophy since 1993 – and has managed to steady his team after a shocking loss to Saudi Arabia in its opening group game.
While Van Gaal was predicting a tight match that will be settled by a “decisive moment,” Scaloni said it will be a “beautiful game because we are talking about two national teams willing to attack but who can also defend.”
It’s set to be a clash of styles between two of soccer’s historic powerhouses, with Argentina – a two-time champion – preferring to play a possession game and the Dutch – three times a beaten finalist – now typically playing on the counterattack under Van Gaal.