The 2022 World Cup knockout stage gets underway at the Khalifa International Stadium as the Netherlands and the United States lock horns in Saturday’s last-16 tie at 3.00 pm.
PSV Eindhoven’s prodigy Cody Gakpo was a hero during the group stages, becoming only the fourth Dutch player to score in three consecutive World Cup games, all of which were deadlock-breakers.
The 23-year-old was responsible for three of his nation’s five goals in Group A, establishing himself as the chief architect behind the Netherlands’ 100% conversion rate in the World Cup group phase.
Standing between them and a third appearance in the competition’s quarter-finals in the last four editions is the US, who had a tumultuous road to the knockout stage.
Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic scored a winner but injured himself in the process, casting doubt on his fitness ahead of the USMNT’s bid to avoid a round-of-16 elimination for the first time since 2002.
As the youngest squad in the tournament, the US see the odds stacked against them, but if their mature defensive showings in Group B are anything to go by, the Netherlands will be in for a stern test.
Who better than van Gaal to inspire the Netherlands’ hopes of recovering their household status in world football? The Oranje haven’t lost any of their ten World Cup matches under the 71-year-old tactician (W7, D3).
As was the case in two of their three Group A outings, they have kept five clean sheets in their last six World Cup outings, including three successive shutouts in the competition’s knockout stage.
If that’s not enough to settle van Gaal’s nerves, the Netherlands haven’t lost any of their last 19 World Cup showdowns against non-European opposition, registering 13 wins and six draws in that span.
In stark contrast to the Netherlands’ high-flying run against non-European rivals, the US last tasted victory over European opposition at a World Cup in 2002, beating Portugal 3-2.
Since then, the USMNT have been winless in 11 consecutive such fixtures (D6, L5), with Belgium curtailing their most recent foray into the World Cup round of 16 back in 2014.
Since three of the US’ four previous participations in the World Cup last-16 have ended their tournament life (W1), Saturday’s game will be a test of character for Berhalter’s kindergarten.
Netherlands vs United States Head-to-Head
All five previous matches between these nations have had a friendly character, with the Netherlands coming out victorious in the first five before slumping to a ‘goal-friendly’ 4-3 defeat in 2015.
While winning the most recent H2H can serve as a confidence boost for the US, taking on a high-flying Dutch team when the stakes are as high as they are is a whole different story.
Netherlands vs United States Potential Line-ups
Netherlands (3-4-1-2): Andries Noppert; Jurrien Timber, Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake; Denzel Dumfries, Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Daley Blind; Davy Klaassen; Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay.
United States (4-3-3): Matt Turner; Sergino Dest, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah; Timothy Weah, Haji Wright, Christian Pulisic.
Netherlands vs United States Prediction
Despite going unbeaten in the group stages, the Netherlands’ performances in Qatar have flattered to deceive, especially in the attacking sense.
Van Gaal relied on PSV’s star in the making, Gakpo, to carry his team through, but now it’s time for Memphis Depay to step up to the plate after recording his first start in Qatar against the host nation on Tuesday.
And while the Oranje can call upon the services of each first-team star, the USMNT are still sweating over Pulisic and Weston McKennie, who are likely to start but not in a maximum capacity.
With experience in these high-octane moments firmly on the Dutch side, we see Saturday’s fixture as the end of the road for this youthful US squad.
Netherlands 2-1 United States
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