The round of 16 match on Saturday between the US Men’s National Team and the Netherlands is one of the more intriguing clashes in the first knockout round of Qatar 2022.
Though the bookmakers have the Netherlands as the odds-on favorite, this match-up is certainly closer than that and both teams will feel confident of booking a place in the quarterfinals.
The USMNT gave England real trouble in its group stage match and will likely have come out of that game the more disappointed of the two teams with the 0-0 draw, while a solid win over Iran in a high-stakes, winner-takes-all match showed that Gregg Berhalter’s men can perform under intense pressure.
With the Netherlands ranked eighth in FIFA’s world rankings – eight places above the US – and boasting world renowned talents like Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay, Saturday’s match will be a tough one for the US.
Can Berhalter’s men reach the last eight for the first time since 2002? CNN Sport takes a look.
USMNT’s key threat
Of course, the main concern for the US is the fitness of star man Christian Pulisic.
The Chelsea forward suffered what he called a pelvic contusion while scoring the winner in its crunch match against Iran, but head coach Berhalter said Friday that Pulisic is on track to play on Saturday.
Pulisic, dubbed “Captain America” by some US fans, told reporters Thursday that he “will do everything in my power to work with this medical team and make sure that I can play.”
Fortunately, for US fans, the USMNT tweeted from its official account late on Friday that Pulisic “has been cleared to play” in the win-or-go-home match against the Dutch.
‘Anything can happen’
The performance against Iran – a gritty but deserved 1-0 win – will have been incredibly pleasing to Berhalter, in particular as it came against the backdrop of much off-field tension in the buildup.
Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams faced some tough questions from Iranian journalists in a fiery pre-match press conference, fending off accusations of hypocrisy and disrespect.
That his team was able to focus and deliver when it mattered most will give Berhalter and US fans huge confidence going into Saturday’s match.
“From here, anything can happen,” Berhalter said ahead of the match. “It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going in thinking it’s an honor. We deserve to be in the position we’re in and we want to keep it that way.”
While Pulisic is undoubtedly the star of the USMNT, captain Adams has been the team’s engine and heartbeat.
The Leeds midfielder has shown poise both on and off the pitch, drawing praise for his composure and eloquence in responding to those questions from Iranian journalists.
Berhalter, whose team is yet to concede a goal from open play at this World Cup, heaped praise on his “general” following the win against Iran.
“Tyler fits a very specific role,” Berhalter said. “He is the general, he is the strategist. He’s the guy that goes out there and leads by example. When he talks, people listen.”
If the US can perform as it did against England and for much of the game against Iran, a place in a first World Cup quarterfinal since 2002 beckons.
The USMNT will be confident against a Netherlands side that hasn’t quite got it together in Qatar.
Louis van Gaal’s side has failed to impress so far, earning a late win against Senegal thanks to two goalkeeping errors from Édouard Mendy and only tallied a point against Ecuador in a game it was fortunate not to lose.
The team’s 2-0 win over Qatar was a more convincing performance, but even that comes with the caveat of the Qataris being poor at this tournament.
What the coach said
Few would have expected the Netherlands to be a serious contender at this World Cup and it will pleasing to head coach van Gaal, a manager known for his pragmatism, that his side qualified top of Group A despite not yet clicking as a team.
The 71-year-old, currently in his third spell in charge of the Dutch national team, hit back against claims from one reporter that his team’s performance against Qatar had been “terribly boring” and, in his pre-match press conference for the quarterfinals, lauded a “fanatical and sharp” US team.
“I know from experience that matches against countries such as the United States and Australia, who we encountered at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, are always very difficult,” van Gaal said Thursday.
“They work very hard and they’re good on the ball.
“The USA has demonstrated that it has an excellent team, I would even say one of the best teams, a team that is fine-tuned, [but] it’s nothing we can’t overcome,” van Gaal added Friday, per Reuters.
“The USA that is a very energetic squad, they have physically strong players and that is tough for any opponent, and you can tell from their results, but we will do everything we can to win and to beat USA, that’s it.”
Netherlands’ key threat
The Netherlands mustered just eight shots on target in its three group stage matches but was clinical in scoring five goals, thanks largely to star youngster Cody Gakpo.
The 23-year-old has likely greatly increased his transfer value this tournament, much to the delight of Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, scoring his three goals with his right foot, left foot and head to lead the 2022 World Cup golden boot race alongside Kylian Mbappé, Marcus Rashford, Álvaro Morata and Enner Valencia.
Reports suggest that Manchester United are among the clubs already chasing Gakpo’s signature following the World Cup and fellow Dutch star van Dijk said the winger’s potential could see him “go to the moon and back.”
“He is a very good player and a good boy too,” the Liverpool defender said. “What we see in training is what you see on the pitch. There is still so much potential and I hope he can carry on showing it for us. We are very happy with him.
Van Gaal added: “Things can change, but Cody has everything it takes to become a star. He has a wonderful personality to become a star player because he is open minded to anything and everything.”
This team struggled against an athletic Ecuador team, a threat the USA will also pose, and the Netherlands will need Gakpo at his best – along with van Dijk and midfielder de Jong – to progress past a stern test in the Americans.
When and where
10 a.m. ET at the Khalifa International Stadium.
How to watch
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC