Verdict: Netherlands win
Best odds: 19/20
The group stage of the World Cup in Qatar is over and the round of 16 is about to begin. In its first match, Netherlands, as the Group A winners, will take on Group B runners-up USA at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The winner will go on to face the better team from the duel of Group C winners Argentina and Group D runners-up Australia in the quarterfinals.
Despite finishing top of their group, also featuring Senegal, Ecuador and the host nation of Qatar, there has been some criticism directed at head coach Louis van Gaal by the press in their homeland. The experienced tactician responded merely to reveal that he wasn’t surprised by that at all.
Netherlands opened the tournament by beating Senegal 2-0, courtesy of late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen. Then they drew 1-1 with Ecuador, where Enner Valencia cancelled out Gakpo’s early opener. Gakpo was on target yet again against Qatar in the final round, followed by Frenkie de Jong setting the score at 2-0.
With three goals from three matches at the World Cup so far, Gakpo appears to be the talk of the town and according to numerous sources, a number of top clubs around Europe are lining up to be in the race for his services at the end of the season.
Van Gaal has all his players available for selection after Jeremie Frimpong bounced back from an injury scare a couple of days ago.
The 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen right-back is likely to be on the bench anyway, with Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries preferred on that flank. Opposite of Dumfries, it’ll probably be Daley Blind as the left wing-back, with the pair of Marten De Roon and De Jong between them. The trio at the back will be formed by captain Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake and Jurrien Timber, while upfront, Memphis Depay is likely to lead the line with Gakpo and Klaassen in support.
Unlike Netherlands, the USA are never really counted as favourites to win World Cup groups and they obviously didn’t do so this time either, but their progress through the recent years is clear. Gregg Berhalter’s men are playing good football, both technically and tactically, and their place on the world ladder of this sport is now much higher.
Like Netherlands, the Americans managed to navigate their group without losing a match. They finished second, two points behind winners England and as many ahead of Iran, and four ahead of Wales. Their campaign started with a 1-1 draw against the Welsh, where Timothy Weah struck but saw his goal cancelled out by Gareth Bale in the late stages. Then they played a goalless draw against England, and eventually triumphed 1-0 over Iran with the only goal of the game being the work of Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic.
Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams endured a rather unpleasant press conference ahead of the Iran match. A number of questions unrelated to the game were fired at Berhalter by the Iranian press, and while he refused to say much other than “I’m a soccer coach”, Adams responded to criticism for mispronouncing Iran and to a question about racism in the USA in surprisingly mature, and extremely respectful manner.
Pulisic suffered a pelvic contusion as he scored the winner against Iran, and his condition was being monitored on a daily basis before he was eventually cleared to play. Striker Josh Sargent is also back following an ankle injuury, as is midfielder Weston McKennie after a quad problem.
Arsenal backup goalkeeper Matt Turner will surely be between the posts, with Fulham’s Tim Ream and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers representing the centre-back duo. Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest will be covering their flanks. Adams is expected to anchor the midfield the ‘6’ in a 4-3-3 shape, with the pair of McKennie and Yunus Musah playing between the boxes. Sargent will be flanked by Pulisic and Weah.
Berhalter could, alternatively, choose a 4-2-3-1 instead, in which case Gio Reyna is likely to come into the side in the place of Musah.
This Dutch team is a fantastic mixture of youth and experience. There are a few players indisputably of world class in their ranks, and they’ve been rightly labeled as the favourites to win this match.
Verdict: Netherlands win
Best odds: 19/20
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