The Netherlands put on a World Cup finishing masterclass to beat the USA 3-1 and advance to the quarter-finals on Saturday as Lionel Messi’s Argentina prepared to take on Australia in a David v Goliath showdown.
The Dutch enjoyed less possession than the USA at the Khalifa International Stadium but handed out a painful lesson in finishing to their less-vaunted opponents.
First-half goals from Memphis Depay and Daley Blind and a late strike from Denzel Dumfries sealed a deserved victory for Louis van Gaal’s team.
The Netherlands, bidding to win their first World Cup after losing in three previous finals, have flown under the radar in Qatar but are still unbeaten and will face Argentina or Australia in the last eight.
“We always want to improve and, since the start of the tournament, it’s been getting better and better with each game,” said Van Gaal.
The veteran coach said he had torn into his players at half-time, even though they were leading 2-0.
“We suffered in the first half, we were dispossessed so often and that’s not acceptable at a World Cup,” he said. “If you play like that against top countries you won’t make it.”
For the United States it was a familiar story — they enjoyed plenty of the ball but were hampered by the lack of a cutting edge.
USA coach Gregg Berhalter’s men head home after scoring just three goals in their four matches.
Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic squandered a golden chance to put his team 1-0 up in the early minutes but his scuffed shot was saved by Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert.
The Netherlands took the lead in the 10th minute when Depay swept home to cap a majestic 20-pass move in the finest traditions of flowing Dutch football.
They doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time through Blind.
Substitute Haji Wright gave the Americans hope when his freak deflection from Pulisic’s cross looped in at the far post in the 76th minute but the Netherlands restored their two-goal cushion five minutes later through Dumfries.
“When you look at the difference of the two teams, there was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we were lacking,” said Berhalter.
“We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now, who’s scoring in the Champions League, playing for Barcelona, experienced at scoring at this level.”
The Australians confounded all expectations by getting out of a Group D that included defending champions France, Denmark and Tunisia.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is not ready to take anything for granted, having already seen his team suffer a shock loss to Saudi Arabia earlier in the tournament.
“Whether or not they are inferior to us remains to be seen,” Scaloni said. “Forget who is theoretically favourites and let’s play football.”
Australia coach Graham Arnold said he expects the Socceroos to raise their game once more against the star-studded Argentines.
“Playing against that type of talent, and that name I think resonates right across the world — it’s a football nation and it is inspiring to play against them,” Arnold said.
Defending champions France and England are in last-16 action on Sunday.
France are strong favourites to beat Poland and advance but captain Hugo Lloris will come up against Robert Lewandowski, arguably the most lethal striker in the modern game.
“He has been one of the best number nines in the world for years now but they are a good side collectively and they take a lot of pleasure in defending and suffering,” Lloris said.
Gareth Southgate’s side are expected to see off Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium but Southgate has no intention of underestimating Aliou Cisse’s men.
“They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well,” he said.
“We will be considered the favourites and Senegal the underdogs but that doesn’t really mean anything in a one-off game.”