Lusail Stadium, 12.30 am (Sat)
Van Dijk needs to shackle Messi
Dutch will have to push Argentina to the flanks to negate attacking threat
Subscriber Only Stories
Average age: Netherlands: 27.4; Argentina: 27.8
Average height: Netherlands: 6’8”; Argentina: 5’8” Weight
Likely starting 11
Nopper; Timber, Van Dijk, Ake; Dumfries, Roon, De Jong, Blind, Klaasen; Gakpo, Depay
Martinez; Acuna, Otamendi, Romero, Molina; Allister, Fernandez, De Paul; Gomez, Messi, Alvarez
Defining area: Flanks
As they did against Poland, Mexico as well as Australia, Argentina will aim to control proceedings while the Netherlands – just as they did against the USA – will be happy to sit back and look for opportunities to attack them on the counter.
This means the Dutch will once again play a 5-3-2 system while defending, which will leave no space for Argentina in the middle of the pitch, forcing them into wider areas. This will be critical for two key reasons: Crowding the central areas would mean Messi might be forced to play in a withdrawn role to help with the build-up. For Virgil van Dijk & Co., that will mean not dealing with Messi’s menacing presence in the attacking third constantly.
Secondly, they’ll force Argentina to do something that they aren’t comfortable with – attack from the flanks. While they do have quality wingers and use wider areas by overloading the flanks, it’s done with the intention to draw the opposition midfielders towards them to open up space in the centre, from where they launch attacks.
On the other hand, the Dutch rely a lot on their wingers and wing-backs to create goal-scoring chances. So while they’ll hope to stifle Argentina in the centre, the Netherlands will be aiming to use the width to their advantage.
Key battle: Van Dijk vs Messi
Quite simply, it’ll be a battle between arguably the best centre-back currently in the world against the best attacker of this generation.
Messi has turned back the clock with some sublime performances in the tournament. And he’s done it not just by scoring goals. Messi has been used as a decoy by Lionel Scaloni, a ploy in which he attracts opponents to create space for his teammates in the centre, where Julian Alvarez has been a constant threat as well.
For Van Dijk, the challenge will be not just to keep a close eye on Messi but also to track his strike partner and watch out for the quick movements inside the box.
Leave a Reply