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Messi finally scores in the knockout stage, Netherlands get past US & more

It’s Day 14 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the serious business has started.

The knockout stage has begun with two round of 16 ties, which saw the Netherlands and Argentina progress. Let’s look at what happened.

Round of 16: Netherlands 3-1 US

The United States were looking to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time in two decades, but the Netherlands stood in their path.

The USMNT started the match off on the front foot and looked better in the opening exchanges, but then they suffered a sucker punch.

Gregg Berhalter’s side kept more possession, but the Dutch were happy to let them do so. They used a very player-oriented defensive set-up and dropped close to the halfway line, where the front two focused on closing passing lanes from the opposition centre-backs to the full-backs.

The midfield trio marked the opposing trio, and wing-backs pushed forward to press the full-backs.

It looked like there would be a one-goal difference between the two sides going into the half-time break, but the Dutch lead was doubled on the stroke of half-time by Daley Blind, who turned in another low cross from Denzel Dumfries.

The US tried to use Jesus Ferreira as a false nine, but he did not have a huge impact on the match, so he was brought off in favour of Giovanni Reyna at half-time.

That did not alter the pattern of the match substantially, but a goal scored by substitute striker Haji Wright with 15 minutes left on the clock from the second phase of a set-piece threw the game wide open.

Just a few minutes later, though, another wing-back to wing-back combination in the final third restored the Netherlands’ two-goal cushion, with Dumfries scoring this time by meeting a cross at the far post.

That effectively sealed the result, so the Oranje won their third-consecutive round of 16 tie at the World Cup.

Round of 16: Argentina 2-1 Australia

Lionel Messi began what most likely is his final World Cup knockout stage campaign with Argentina against Australia, whose men’s team have never advanced past this stage in their history.

The Socceroos started quite well, defending in a compact 4-4-2 shape which restricted the spaces available in midfield.

They were benefited by the fact that Argentina did not look at their best. The injury-enforced absence of Ángel Di María meant that Papu Gómez came into the line-up but started on the left and forced Julián Álvarez out to the right.

This change of player profiles on the wings imbalanced Argentina’s attacking play, so they looked quite toothless.

The good news for them, though, was the fact that they had a certain Messi. In his 1,000th senior appearance, the ex-Barcelona great took matters into his own hands in the 35th minute, bursting into the box in the second phase of a set-piece after releasing a pass.

Nicolás Otamendi was the man in the box who initially received the ball in the box, but Messi ran onto his lay-off and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.

Five minutes into the second half, Lionel Scaloni somewhat puzzlingly took Gómez off for Lisandro Martínez, switching to a 3-5-2 formation.

It did not really make Argentina look much better, but they still grabbed a second goal soon thereafter as Mathew Ryan had a howler and gave the ball away to Julián Álvarez, who sent it into an empty net.

It looked like La Albiceleste would comfortably seal the win after that, but there was a twist in the tale when Craig Goodwin’s strike took a big deflection off Enzo Fernández and halved Australia’s deficit in the 77th minute.

Both sides had some very presentable chances to score the game’s fourth goal, but Lautaro Martínez squandered his side’s chances, while Aziz Behich’s solo effort was blocked over and Garang Kuol’s last-minute attempt was smothered by Emiliano Martínez.

So, Argentina’s World Cup campaign continues, and although Australia might be going home, they can do so with their heads held very high.

👀 Looking Ahead

The next two round of 16 ties will be played tomorrow, so these are the matches you should be looking forward to:

France vs Poland (18:00 AST):
Defending champions France start the action tomorrow when they face Poland, who have reached this stage for the first time since 1986. Only two nations have managed to win the World Cup back-to-back, and the last team to do so were Brazil in 1966. France have a long way to go if they are to emulate that, but they should be expected to cross this hurdle with relative ease.

England vs Senegal (22:00 AST):
England have won all but two of the 11 round of 16 ties they have played, so they be the favourites against a side that has only appeared in two previous editions of the tournament. In their only previous knockout run, Senegal made it to the quarter-finals in 2002, but they will need to pull off a big upset to reach those heights again.

Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.

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