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Big boys Netherlands, Argentina big-boy wannabes USA, Australia in Round of 16

Netherlands 3-1 USA; Argentina 2-1 Australia

Netherlands v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Saturday was another day where I had to contend with the challenge of experiencing football on the radio while driving around the Wild Wild West, but that did give me a chance to listen to a bit more post-match coverage and reaction than I normally would’ve, which was quite instructive (and quickly quite exasperating) after the USA’s 3-1 defeat by the Netherlands.

There was plenty of optimism in the build-up and before kick-off, but it turned out to be not much of a contest once the whistle blew. Like the classic trope of a big bully holding some young kid at (literally) arm’s length while the latter windmills away with his arms, the Dutch were effective and efficient, ruthless in taking their chances, and unerring in the execution of their well-crafted gameplan.

The US did not take advantage of the rare few errors gifted to them, including Christian Pulisic missing a sitter inside of two minutes, and were undone by mistakes and poor play especially on the flanks. In the post-match, great pains were taken to paint defeat in a positive light, a learning experience and all that, but the cold harsh reality was that the USMNT were outplayed, out-worked (smarter not always harder), out-talented (Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind versus Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson a glaring example), and most certainly out-coached.

So, only those four areas need improvement then if the US are to make a bigger impact four years from now, when they host the 2026 World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands move on to the quarterfinals where they will face fellow heavyweights Argentina, who similarly didn’t have too much trouble in dispatching Argentina, even if the scoreline was a bit more narrow at 2-1. Like the USMNT, Australia scuffed in a goal in the second half to make things interesting, but Argentina, unlike the Netherlands, didn’t answer that with a third goal of their own.

But just like the Netherlands, Argentina showed up with a plan and also had their big boys show up individually. Memphis was among the goals for the Dutch — he’s their second leading all-time goalscorer. Two of Daley Blind’s three career international goals, in nearly 100 appearances, have now come at World Cups. Lionel Messi is now tied for the tournament lead in goals with three. Big players, big occasions. (In fairness, Pulisic did collect the assist on the US goal, lucky as that was.)

Argentina and the Netherlands last met in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup, when Argentina prevailed on penalties before losing to Germany in the final (with André Schürrle assisting the winning goal). This game will also be a rematch of the 1978 World Cup final, which Argentina won 3-1 in extra-time. Fun!

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