Dubai: The Netherlands may have sailed through their group by winning two matches and drawing one but they had been pretty underwhelming at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Until tonight against the USA.
It should have been tough against the well organised, young and hungry Americans who ought to have taken the lead after just three minutes through Christian Pulisic. Tyler Adams flicked the ball over the top for the Chelsea forward but he saw his tame effort saved by Andries Noppert.
The USA started brightly with the midfield three of Adams, Musah and McKennie seeing plenty of the ball. They were also snapping into tackles, pressing fiercely and giving the Dutch no time at all. But then, the men in orange broke the deadlock with one of the best goals of the tournament.
It was a sweeping move that saw 21 passes as they worked the ball wide for Denzel Dumfries who drove over a perfect pull back for Memphis Depay to fire home. It was beautiful. They just cut through the USA with some incisive passing followed by a lovely finish.
Then followed a clear holding pattern by the Dutch - three-time runners-up in the World Cup - when the USA had the ball. They were fine with the USA defenders carrying it to the halfway line. They wanted them to overcommit and then with the tools and talent they possessed they could hit their opponents on the counter.
USA were getting up the pitch but then running out of ideas. The Netherlands were not getting sucked out of position, they kept their shape really well.
USA boss Gregg Berhalter was glued to the edge of his technical area barking out instructions to his players through the entire first half. On the other hand, Louis van Gaal - who was winning the tactical battle - hadn’t left his seat in the dugout.
Then on the stroke of half time, the Netherlands doubled their advantage with almost a carbon copy of the first goal as Depay found Daley Blind and from 12 yards out he found the bottom corner. It was lovely stuff.
Berhalter needed a huge team talk to rally his troops as The Netherlands were in total control but he knew it would be even more dangerous for his side in the second period if they pushed forward trying to chase a goal. And that’s what almost happened seconds into the second 45 as a cross from the right was met by the sliding Walker Zimmermann but fortunately for the USA man his keeper Matt Turner was quick to stick out a hand and stop the defenders touch finding the net for an own goal.
Cody Gakpo – the undoubted star of the show for the Dutch so far with three goals – then saw a shot blocked but was able to set up Depay for a whipped effort that Turner tipped over.
It was one-way traffic as the USA tried desperately to stay in the game but with 15 minutes left they were handed a lifeline.
Substitute Haji Wright grabbed one back with a bizarre finish. Pulisic’s low cross was flicked up by the boot of Wright which sent the ball looping over the Dutch keeper and into the far corner of the net. But there wasn’t to be a grandstand finish as three minutes later Dumfires, who had a superb game, added a third for the Dutch after finding space at the back post.
That destroyed any lasting hopes the USA had but they can be pleased with their World Cup run. As for the Netherlands, they seem to be coming to life at the right time in the tournament.