Coach Louis van Gaal has countered press criticism in the Netherlands about his side’s “boring Football”, by describing it as “winning Football.” Although they were pegged back by Ecuador on Matchday 2, that winning Football has seen the Oranje account for Senegal, Qatar, and the USA, in progressing to the last eight. It took until the 84th minute for the Dutch to break Senegal’s stubborn resistance, with a second goal coming nine minutes into injury time, and the 2-0 scoreline made their win look more comfortable than it was. The Netherlands didn’t need to get out of first gear to dispose of the tournament hosts, and were always on top against the USA, after Memphis Depay’s 10th-minute strike. The Oranje haven’t lost a competitive match (in 90 minutes) during the various stints under the managership of “The Iron Tulip” since 2001, and their current unbeaten run is now at 19 matches. Over the four matches in this tournament, their statistics haven’t been as impressive as some of the other qualifiers: they have averaged 53% possession, recording 14 shots on target, while allowing 19.
On Matchday 1, despite having taken the lead, Argentina found themselves on the wrong end of one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets when they were stunned by 25/1 shots, Saudi Arabia. The Expected Goals statistic favoured Argentina by 2.3 to 0.15 in that game and Lionel Scaloni’s men had three goals disallowed for offside. It was the first time Argentina had lost a World Cup Finals match in 90 minutes after scoring first, since 1958. Strong second-half performances against Mexico and Poland allowed Argentina to pick up the six points they needed to top Group C. Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernández scored with La Albiceleste’s only two shots on target, against Mexico, while goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julián Álvarez settled the game against Poland. In the Round of 16, Argentina looked in charge against Australia, with goals from Messi and Álvarez. A bizarre own goal, when a long-range strike deflected in off Enzo Fernández, caused a few anxious moments, but La Albiceleste saw the match out to progress to the last eight. Argentina has dominated possession over their four games so far, having an average of 65.5% of the ball, and have recorded 25 shots on target while allowing only four.
Memphis Depay’s return has been a boost for the Dutch. He has now scored 22 goals in his last 23 games for the Netherlands, and he is likely to play as one of the front two in a 3-4-1-2 formation. Scaloni will be hoping to welcome back Ángel di Maria as an attacking option on the right side of his 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 set-up, in which Álvarez looks to have supplanted Lautaro Martinez as Argentina’s first-choice number nine. This fixture features two of the top ten teams in the FIFA Rankings, with Argentina ranked third, and the Netherlands in eighth. It’s a repeat of the 1978 Final and the Quarter-final of 1998 which was decided by Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal. The Dutch have won four of the nine previous meetings, with three wins for Argentina, and two draws. None of the last four meetings has produced more than two goals, with the last two finishing 0-0. Five of those nine contests were huge World Cup games, and matches don’t get much more significant than this clash between two of Football’s superpowers.