World Cup Thoughts – Day 14
The knockouts begin
We made it! The round of 16! I thought these were both really interesting games, and I’m not sure I completely agree with the consensus, so let’s go.
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Netherlands 3-1 United States
How much did the Netherlands “deserve” to go through?
In the first ten minutes, it certainly felt like the United States had control of the game. They only turned this into one shot, though Christian Pulisic’s chance was very good. I don’t think he was offside, either, so we’re potentially talking about a very different game. The US pushed the Netherlands right back into their own third here. It was very impressive stuff. For ten minutes.
You know what happened after that. Memphis Depay scored the opener after a delightful passing move. Daley Blind made it two just before half time. Haji Wright scored a weird looping shot to give the Americans hope, but Denzel Dumfries finished it. Easy, right?
Most xG models called it as a very close game with the Netherlands slightly shading it. These were small margins, though. Having watched all the chances back with my own dumb eyes, that feels right to me. I don’t think there was a huge difference in the quality of chances between the two teams.
So, did the Netherlands deserve to win?
“Team USA didn’t adjust, they didn’t adapt”, Louis van Gaal claimed (though not in such a negative tone as implied). “We made our tactical plan based on [targeting the flanks], [which] probably allowed us to win”. It was clear he had a plan for the USA. This wasn’t anything like the dominant possession football one might expect. England tried that against the US and got stifled by the Americans’ pressing game. Van Gaal denied them the same opportunities here.
But still, all that planning for a small edge on xG? Some have suggested game state effects here and I just don’t see it. The Netherlands conceded their biggest chance of the game at 0-0, which would’ve blown up Van Gaal’s strategy had it gone in. Once ahead, they conceded about 1.1 xG for the rest of the match. That’s more than Gregg Berhalter’s team created against either England or Wales. People are trying to credit this game as a Van Gaal masterclass but, sorry, I just don’t see it.
I’m sure Van Gaal will have another plan to deal with Argentina and Lionel Messi. I have no idea what it will look like, but I think it will need to work better than this to deal with that team.
The US exit the tournament at the round of 16, which isn’t an improvement on 2010 or 2016 in terms of pure results. But I would feel much better about this team than either of those. Bob Bradley’s team were much more interested in simply parking the bus in South Africa, which made sense for those players. Jürgen Klinsmann was doing god knows what in 2014, and the side were very fortunate to scrape through some pretty poor performances. That team was annihilated by Belgium despite taking the match to extra time. This team played pretty well despite the scoreline. I know a lot of you are Americans, and I’d be feeling fairly confident in the medium term were I in your shoes. There’s enough here to believe the US will be a more competitive team in 2026. I certainly wouldn’t blow it all up by firing Berhalter and starting over.
Argentina 2-1 Australia
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