2022 World Cup | Three key matchups during Netherlands vs Argentina

A tournament rivalry that has met on four previous occasions is set to add another chapter to a near-50-year history as Cody Gakpo and Lionel Messi look to rise highest on Friday night

In a resumption of one of the more iconic World Cup ties, European giants the Netherlands are set to lock horns with South American juggernaut Argentina in Qatar on Friday night at Lusail Iconic Stadium as Louis van Gaal and Lionel Scaloni preside over the sixth meeting between two of football’s biggest names on the international stage.

Many will no doubt remember the famous goal scored by Dennis Bergkamp against Argentina at France ‘98 to send the Dutch into the semi-finals at Argentina’s expense, while fewer can recollect Argentina’s 3-1 extra-time win in the finals back in 1978 that featured a brace from the great Mario Kempes to send a dagger into the hearts of Johan Neeskens and co, but this clash of footballing juggernauts comes with pageantry that only the World Cup can provide.

How this transpires on Friday night remains to be seen but there is certainly no shortage of talking points or star power as Dutch hitmen Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay look to help arrest the moniker of being football’s “nearly men” while Lionel Messi remains intent on pushing for the ever-elusive final major trophy of an otherwise legendary career at the top level of the beautiful game.

How do these two stack up against each other? Here are three key matchups as the Netherlands and Argentina prepare to add another chapter to an iconic World Cup matchup.

Ball dominance vs chance creation

This is not a match-up of the Netherlands vs Argentina as much as it is the propensity of both sides to be inconsistent in terms of their chance creation when stacked up against their ability to control possession. And it is no doubt a telling factor in what is set to transpire on Friday night.

For Van Gaal’s Oranje, chance creation has come at a premium at times this tournament in the same light as their inability to always be on the front foot irrespective of some of the facilitators they do have in the team, namely Frenkie de Jong. Across four fixtures thus far, the Netherlands has had the lion’s share of possession in three of their four ties with only the United States able to wrestle control away from them. But despite that data point, the inconsistency in which LVG’s men have been able to craft goalscoring opportunities has come at a real premium, with no better example coming against Ecuador when they managed just two shots all match while also being out-chanced by both the US as well as Senegal.

As for Scaloni’s La Albiceleste, ball dominance is hardly an issue after Argentina comes into the quarterfinals owning the second-highest possession numbers (62.1%) and the joint-second highest completion figures (88%). Chance creation is in good stead as well, with the South American champions averaging 14.3 shots/match, but there is still a feeling that they have struggled to really put those chances away when presented with them, with their shock loss to Saudi Arabia and escape act against Australia owning up to that. How this storyline plays out is absolutely vital for both sides.

Van Dijk vs Messi

It would not be a clash of the titans in the quarterfinals if it did not feature one of the game’s top center-backs against arguably the greatest player of all time when Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk comes face-to-face with an inspired and supremely motivated Lionel Messi.

Much of the chatter around Qatar this tournament has been Kylian Mbappé's goalscoring antics for France as well as the breakout performance of Gonçalo Ramos for Portugal last night, but Messi has most certainly been one of the top performers at the 2022 World Cup on the back of three goals and an assist while coming up in big moments once again for his country.

This is not just about how VVD can stop Messi if he is in full flight on Friday night, which many should expect given his form, though it does stand to note that one of his weaknesses of late has been his penchant for standing off his man and giving too much space in the defensive third. If Messi or even Julián Álvarez has acreage to operate, it could be curtains for the Netherlands, but in that same light, Van Dijk’s ball-playing ability could be a real game-changer in how the Dutch could bypass the midfield and get at Argentina’s historic weakness at the back while allowing the attacking duopoly of Gakpo and Depay to find some joy at the other end. Should Messi or anyone in the forward line not close him down, this facet of his game could truly rise to the surface.

Dumfries vs Acuña

To kick off the final segment, a word from my colleague Ben Browning on Denzel Dumfries after he made 101 Great Goals’ best XI of the round of 16;Central to their success was Dumfries, who provided two assists and a goal in a rampaging performance from right wing-back. Recently linked with a move to the Premier League, performances like that from the 24-year-old will only continue to raise his price tag.”

Aptly put and spot on is the assessment of Dumfries’ contributions as Van Gaal keeps faith in a back three schematic that asks both wing-backs to contribute in both the middle and final third in terms of creativity and as a residual source of goals. There is no question that the Inter Milan man will get forward on the night, but how Argentina left-back Marcos Acuña manages to deal with him could prove decisive in terms of the overall result.

The 31-year-old Sevilla defender is no stranger to marauding into the forward spaces either, but certainly does not bring the same offensive qualities that Dumfries has on offer, and instead, can press relatively well while helping Argentina maintain possession as they cycle the ball while looking for an opening. He lacks in terms of pace and in multiple physical attributes, however, and a possible miss-match between the two might be intentionally targeted by the Netherlands, with Dumfries needing a little excuse to turn supplier or bolt into the box to get a look at goal himself. It is an unheralded matchup that is nevertheless important.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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