Sunday, February 5 2023
<span>Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP</span>
Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

World Cup pedigree

The Dutch were comfortable Group A winners in Qatar courtesy of 2-0 wins over Senegal and Qatar and a 1-1 tie with Ecuador. They have reached the tournament 11 times, though shockingly didn’t qualify for Russia 2018 (sounds familiar). The nation lost on penalties to Argentina in the 2014 semi-finals and were runners-up in 1974 and 1978 during the Johan Cruyff Total Football era (though Cruyff didn’t play in ’78, when he was nearly kidnapped, lost his fortune investing in a pig farm then joined the NASL), and in 2010 during the Nigel de Jong Kung Fu era.

Related: ‘When he talks, people listen’: Tyler Adams is a formidable USA captain

Past meetings

Five friendlies between 1998 and 2015 brought four Netherlands victories. But the US took the most recent clash, a 4-3 thriller at the Amsterdam Arena. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side recovered from 3-1 down to snatch the win with last-gasp goals from Danny Williams and Bobby Wood. Current US players DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris came off the bench, while Memphis Depay scored, Daley Blind started and Luuk de Jong featured as a substitute for Guus Hiddink’s Netherlands. The buoyant Americans beat Germany 2-1 in Cologne five days later.

Strengths

A blend of youth and experience and a few exceptional individual talents. The Dutch boast one of the world’s finest defenders, in Liverpool’s 31-year-old Virgil van Dijk – even if he’s not quite at his best – while at 25 the Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong is one of the planet’s top midfielders. Overall the Dutch are one of the top possession teams at this tournament so far, and they’re on an 18-game unbeaten run stretching back to their Euro 2020 elimination by the Czech Republic in June last year.

Weaknesses

While US fans fretted about goalkeeper Matt Turner’s lack of first-team action with Arsenal before the tournament, the Dutch had bigger worries at the position. Heerenveen goalkeeper Andries Noppert made his international debut in their Group A opener against Senegal and kept his place. Recovered from a career-threatening knee injury that led his family only two years ago to wonder if he should quit the sport and join the police, the 6ft 8in 28-year-old has spent most of his career as a back-up and only learnt he was going to Qatar when he saw the squad announced on TV. He is “not nervous”, but he is unproven. Meanwhile, is being “boring” to watch a weakness? If you’re Dutch, it’s virtually a crime.

Star player

Cody Gakpo. The pacy 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward can play on the wing or centrally and has scored three of his country’s five goals in this tournament: a header from a well-timed run against Senegal, a flashing left-foot shot from the edge of the area against Ecuador and a pinpoint low right-foot finish against Qatar. Not surprisingly, he’s being linked with a move to the English Premier League. Leeds and Southampton wanted him in the summer; now there’s talk of Liverpool or Manchester United.

Coach

Not burdened by self-doubt, and almost certainly the only tactician ever to link Leicester City with “sex masochism”, Louis van Gaal came out retirement last year for a third spell in charge of his native country. The first ended after the Netherlands failed to reach the 2002 World Cup and the second lasted from 2012-2014. He’s also had stints at Ajax, AZ Alkmaar, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, though it’s fair to say that his unvarnished man-management style has its critics as well as its fans. The 71-year-old is so abrasive that transcripts of his press conferences could be used as a paint remover.

What the US need to do to beat them

Score twice when on top – and stay on top. The US swarmed their group opponents for long periods but couldn’t find a goal versus England. Against Wales and Iran they took the lead but were pressed back in the second half, partly as desperate opponents upped their tempo, partly because they didn’t convincingly adjust to the changing pattern of play. Tiredness was also a factor, with Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest fading after an hour. So US head coach Gregg Berhalter must get his substitutions right – neither the timing or the picks so far have inspired much confidence. The penalty against Wales aside, the US have defended well, but a third clean sheet in four matches seems like a tall order. The wingers are dangerous, but can the Americans get a goal from a striker?

Score prediction

2-1 to the Netherlands. Two lively teams that pressurize opponents and enjoy plenty of possession yet struggle to rack up shots and to carve out clear chances – the sides are not dissimilar, but the Netherlands have the edge in talent and experience.

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