A minor blip against Ecuador proved to be nothing more than a minor blip for the Netherlands, who were widely expected to advance to the last 16 as Group A winners and did not let the Oranje faithful down, taking seven points from their three matches.
Breakout star Cody Gakpo became just the fourth man in Netherlands history to score in three successive World Cup matches with his well-taken opener against Qatar on Tuesday, and Frenkie de Jong also got in on the act with a tap-in to confirm the first-placed finish and leave the hosts winless and pointless on their way to the exit door.
Concerns have arisen over the Netherlands’ style of play at this World Cup, with Oranje only having eight shots on target so far, but Van Gaal has dismissed such worries as the 2010 runners-up prepare to tackle the World Cup knockout rounds once again.
By topping Group A, the Netherlands kept up their remarkable streak of progressing to the last 16 in every World Cup they have played in since 1934, and they have only been eliminated at this stage twice in the past 32 years – once in 1990 and then again in 2006.
Since their Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of the Czech Republic, the Netherlands has strung together an impressive 18-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, and Van Gaal is now out to record an 11th World Cup game without defeat – going level with second-placed Mario Zagallo and one behind the record of 12 held by Felipe Scolari.
By putting his body on the line for the team and picking up an injury that required hospitalization, USA talisman Christian Pulisic sent his side through to the knockout stages of football’s most prestigious event with the only goal of the game in their final Group B clash with Iran.
That winner-takes-all showdown was settled when Pulisic darted into space to finish from close range in the 38th minute, allowing Gregg Berhalter’s side to leapfrog Iran into second place behind England and set up a tantalizing clash with the Dutch.
The Stars and Stripes also got as far as the last 16 in 2010 and 2014 before being eliminated, and a quarter-final appearance came the way of the U.S. as recently as 2002, but recent history against European nations in the World Cup does not favor Berhalter’s crop.
Indeed, the USA has not beaten a UEFA team in the World Cup since 2002 – drawing six and losing five versus such sides since then – and their three previous knockout games against European nations at the World Cup have all ended in defeat.
Victory over Iran also marked a first win in six matches across all tournaments for the Stars and Stripes, who lost their first four clashes with the Netherlands in friendly encounters, but they recorded a stunning 4-3 win over Oranje as recently as 2015 – coming back from 3-1 down to win it late on thanks to Bobby Wood’s 90th-minute effort.
Netherlands defender Jeremie Frimpong suffered an injury scare with his ankle on Wednesday before making a return to full training on Thursday, but Denzel Dumfries was always expected to line up on the right anyway.
Van Gaal should therefore have all of his troops available, but Matthijs de Ligt and Nathan Ake are walking a tightrope and will miss any potential quarter-final match should they receive yellow cards here.
An unchanged lineup could very well be on the cards for Oranje here, as in-demand PSV Eindhoven starlet Gakpo aims to become the first-ever Dutchman to score in four successive World Cup matches.
As for the USA, Pulisic is being monitored daily after suffering a pelvic contusion while scoring the winner against Iran, but the Chelsea attacker affirmed that he would be fine for Saturday in a congratulatory social media message posted from his hospital bed.
Berhalter also lost Josh Sargent to an injured ankle, although the extent of the damage will not become clear until the results of scans come through, while Weston McKennie is reported to be dealing with a quad problem to hand the USA another selection headache.
However, all three players are said to have good chances of being fit for the last-16 clash, so Berhalter will certainly look to stick with an untouched XI barring any late concerns.
Netherlands possible starting lineup:
Noppert; Timber, Van Dijk, Ake; Dumfries, De Roon, F. De Jong, Blind; Klaassen; Gakpo, Depay
USA possible starting lineup:
Turner; Dest, Carter-Vickers, Ream, Robinson; McKennie, Adams, Musah; Weah, Sargent, Pulisic
Netherlands vs USA Prediction
The Netherlands is yet to hit its stride at the World Cup and has a few issues to address at the moment. The likes of Cody Gakpo and Frenkie de Jong have stepped up for the team so far and will need to make their mark in this fixture if they are to secure progress to the quarterfinals.
The USA could potentially emerge as dark horses at the World Cup and are perfectly capable of pulling off an upset on their day. The Netherlands is a more seasoned team on the international stage, however, and holds the upper hand going into this game. We expect a narrow victory for the Dutch.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 USA