Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal can't wait for Argentina clash: Now it's 'for real'

Dutch have a long World Cup history against the champions of South America

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Louis van Gaal says the World Cup starts “for real” for the Netherlands on Friday when his side meet Argentina in the highly anticipated quarter-final.

The Netherlands, three-time runners-up at the global finals, take on the South American champions at Lusail Stadium for a place in the semi-finals, with the match a continuation of the long rivalry between the countries at the World Cup.

The pair faced off at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, with the Netherlands winning a second-round match in the former and Argentina gaining the ultimate revenge to triumph in the final four years later.

In 1998, the Dutch prevailed in the quarter-finals – Dennis Bergkamp’s winner is regarded as one of the great World Cup goals – while in 2014 Argentina were victorious in the semi-final on penalties.

Van Gaal, who managed the Netherlands then, led his current side to defeating USA 3-1 in the last 16 on Saturday, with Argentina later seeing off Australia 2-1. The winners will face either Brazil or Croatia in next week’s semi-finals.

“The tournament is actually starting tomorrow for real for us,” Van Gaal said. “Although of course I don’t want to downplay the importance of other countries we were able to beat in the last 16 and the groups before that.

“But Argentina and Brazil, who we will possibly play in the next round, are quite different to the teams we beat in the group stage and last 16.”

Asked how he planned to stop in-form Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Van Gaal said: “We're not going to reveal our tactics to you. It would be pretty stupid to reveal your own tactics.

“But it's not difficult to come up with an answer, you want to block and close the passing lines.”

Van Gaal, 71 and having received treatment this year for prostate cancer, will step down as national team manager after the World Cup, with Ronald Koeman to take over.

Netherlands ratings v USA

However, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Manchester United manager would not rule out remaining in management, saying: “I’m only doing this for the country, it was an emergency situation and I committed to that.

“But you never say never. We had a wonderful example in Dick Advocaat. He is older than me and recently took a job [ADO Den Haag].

“If I am presented with a wonderful challenge it could well be I continue to work. But I’m 71, even though I look marvellous.”

Argentina, two-time world champions, have significant pressure on them heading into the encounter, especially given the finals is expected to mark Messi's last on the world stage.

The South Americans, who go into the game as slight favourites, rebounded from their shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia to reel off three successive victories.

On Thursday, manager Lionel Scaloni said: “We prepare for this match the same way we prepared for all the others. Of course, there is anxiety, we want the game to start right now. After five or six days we are eager to play, but we are calm. I know the team will break their backs as they have done in the previous games.

“Sometimes we have played well, sometimes not. But we have always faced our opponents. That’s what our people value the most. We know we will give it all on the pitch. Sometimes football can be beautiful. Sometimes football can be cruel.”

Updated: December 08, 2022, 5:58 PM