The Netherlands progressed to the quarter-finals with a comfortable win against the USA
Argentina beat Australia in the round of 16 to advance to the last eight of the World Cup
Expect a game without too many goals at the Lusail Iconic Stadium on Friday
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The Netherlands did not exactly set the group stage of World Cup 2022 alight. A return of seven points from nine saw Louis van Gaal’s side through as the winners of Group A, and there was never any real danger of them failing to make it through to the knockout phase.
However, their performances early on did not exactly set pulses racing. An even game against Senegal was decided with two late goals from the Netherlands, but a draw would have been a fairer result. The Dutch were then outplayed by Ecuador in a 1-1 tie, before beating a poor Qatar side.
In hindsight, though, perhaps the Netherlands were simply feeling their way into the tournament. No one wants to peak too early at a World Cup. Van Gaal’s side did enough to get through comfortably and that is all that matters.
Their display against the USA in the round of 16 was much more impressive. True, it was not as if the Netherlands blew their opponents away. Gregg Berhalter’s men exited with their heads held high after giving the Dutch plenty to think about in a 3-1 defeat.
Still, it is fair to say Van Gaal got the better of Berhalter in the tactical battle on the touchline. With the energy and athleticism, they have in their side, the USA-like matches to be played at a high tempo. As a result, the Netherlands sat off them and deliberately slowed the pace of play, before picking the Americans off on the break. The game plan worked a treat.
The Netherlands failed to qualify for World Cup 2018, but this is the third time in the last four editions that they have reached the quarter-finals. Van Gaal, now 71 and in his third spell as manager of his country, will not want the run to end here.
Argentina got their campaign off to a nightmare start with that 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. But three consecutive victories since then has got the Albiceleste dreaming of a third triumph in the biggest competition of all.
Given they won Copa America 2021 and arrived in Qatar on the back of a 36-match unbeaten run, you might assume that Argentina would have had a settled side throughout this tournament. In fact, Lionel Scaloni has not been afraid to ring the changes.
He first did so after the loss to the Saudis, but although Argentina bounced back to beat Mexico 2-0 on matchday two, the coach was still not entirely happy with the balance of the team. He made further alterations for the game against Poland and then largely stuck with the same side for the 2-1 triumph over Australia last time out.
Having fielded Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes in a midfield two against the Saudis, Argentina are now lining up with three men in the center of the pitch: De Paul, Enzo Fernandez, and Alexis Mac Allister.
The other significant switch is upfront. Lionel Messi is now being deployed as a false nine with Julian Alvarez in support, which means there is no space in the XI for Lautaro Martinez, who began the tournament as Argentina’s go-to striker.
Argentina have grown into this World Cup and that shock defeat by Saudi Arabia is now completely out of their system. But while they begin this match as the favorites with the best online sportsbooks, Scaloni, and his players know that it will be far from easy.
This will be the sixth World Cup meeting between these two nations. The most famous was in the final in 1978 when Argentina ultimately prevailed in extra time against the Netherlands, who finished as runners-up for a second successive tournament.
Both of the last two clashes ended 0-0, most notably the semi-final at World Cup 2014. In a game of few chances, neither team was able to find the back of the net in 120 minutes of action, and Argentina eventually edged out the Netherlands in the penalty shoot-out.
We would not be surprised to see this game go all the way to spot-kicks too. With the stakes so high, we will probably see Van Gaal and Scaloni adopt cautious strategies with neither side wanting to take too many risks.
One goal could be all that is needed to triumph. Both sides are capable of getting it: Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo linked up well for the Netherlands against the USA, while Messi’s genius is undiminished even at 35 years of age.
As far as we see it, under 1.5 goals is the most attractive bet for Netherlands vs Argentina on Friday.
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Teams: Netherlands vs Argentina
Location: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail, Qatar
Time: Friday, 9 December 2022, 02:00 PM EST
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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