Messi fuels Argentina’s will to win but discount Dutch at your peril

This is a World Cup classic.

We’ve been here before at the knockout stages. We’ve been here before at the quarter-final stage. Overall, it will be the sixth time the two nations have met at a World Cup.

They’ve met in a final, a semi-final, a quarter-final and in the group stage. In 1978, Argentina landed the big one with victory over the Dutch. In 1998, the Dutch in the pounding Marseille sun beat Argentina thanks to a 90th-minute Dennis Bergkamp stunner. And I mean it was a stunner, a gem, a worldie.

Then eight years ago at Brazil 2014, it was the Argentinian team that prevailed after an attritional 0-0 after extra-time that then saw the South Americans win 4-2 on penalties.

And so to 2022.

Van Gaal the Netherlands’ driving force

Most people who I’ve chatted to about the game all say Lionel Messi will win the game, interestingly and it may be just a figure of speech, but no one ever says it will be ‘Argentina’ who win!

Discount the Dutch at your peril though. A more considered analysis of the game shows they may well be the ‘team’ in the ascendancy and a ‘team’ that is united, together and behind their coach, the mercurial Louis van Gaal.

Van Gaal has a personality that is strong and combative, not at all afraid to fall out with anyone, but here in Qatar and among his team he appears as happy as he could ever be. The players, and there have been several now, have spoken publicly about how much Van Gaal is a driving force for them.

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Nathan Ake and Jurrien Timber look ahead to the Netherlands’ World Cup quarter final against Argentina with Dennis Bergkamp’s goal against them in 1998 living long in the memory while focus also turns towards Lionel Messi

His recovery from cancer and his attitude to battling that horrible condition has earned widespread respect from his players.

They are seeing a man in love with life, in love with football, a softer side yet with the ability to command respect. The players have seen him ‘dad dance’ back into their team hotel after their victory over the USA in the last 16!

Who’d have thought that? Many Dutch football commentators hadn’t and it’s still noticeable that at times there is an edge between Van Gaal and certain members of the Dutch press pack.

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Our Heated Debate panel decide who the player of the World Cup is so far and whether Messi would be in the discussion

Van Gaal though has weathered early criticism of how his team played in their opening games in Qatar as there is a clear progression.

The Netherlands are improving, they have momentum, they have confidence and I even noticed that after the USA win that well-worn phrase so often trotted out to describe Dutch sides of yesteryear – ‘total football’ – was being mentioned.

Cody Gakpo has introduced himself onto the global stage, Memphis Depay is showing just how good he is and Virgil van Dijk is probably the coolest person in Qatar, whatever the temperature.

Can Van Dijk stop Messi?

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Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk hails Messi ahead of their World Cup quarter-final against Argentina on Friday and says they need to make the most of the occasion and take another step closer to a dream of winning the competition

But are they good enough to stop Argentina? Well, I’d say yes. The Netherlands have come together and have the elements throughout the side to succeed. But, are they good enough to stop Lionel Messi?

That’s the problem with any analysis of Argentina; the team could have a stinker yet find themselves still in a game and Messi may have been kept quiet for 89 minutes and 50 seconds only to produce a moment of sheer brilliance and victory.

I can’t get away from this very hackneyed view of Argentina in that they have Messi to change a game, to get them through.

And with Argentina as a whole they have a phenomenal will to win, buoyed on by the magic of Messi and the support of a ridiculously huge amount of fans.

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Clinton Morrison analyses Messi’s performance at the World Cup so far – but is he his greatest-ever player?

Only Morocco come close to having the numbers on the ground to match Argentina and the energy, noise and emotion is incredible to witness. It does help… it is the 12th player on the pitch.

The Dutch know all of this and while not worried about Argentina are ‘cautious’. You can’t stop Messi.

The job is to prevent him getting the ball as much as possible and work back from there. If he does have the ball, push him back, force him deep. Diminish his impact. It’s easier said than done.

I’ll totally admit and make clear Argentina are more than just a one-man team. They’ve shown that and we are seeing what Pep Guardiola has as a back-up for Erling Haaland at Manchester City in Julian Alvarez. He’s not bad is he?

And the view of the Argentinian press pack? Confident doesn’t describe it… they have Messi and that’s all they need.

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