The Group Stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup has officially come to a close, and the knockout stages are upon us. First up is a battle between the United States and the Netherlands, two countries seeking to atone for their failure to quality for the 2018 World Cup.
The Dutch have thrice been runners-up in 1974, 1978, and of course 2010, and they finished third at the 2014 World Cup after beating hosts Brazil, so their failure to qualify in 2018 was a real shock. The USMNT, albeit less successful in tournaments past, actually had a longer qualifying streak than the Dutch up until then, not having missed a World Cup since 1986, while the Netherlands had failed to qualify in 2002. That year, the United States won their first and only World Cup knockout game against neighbors Mexico (not including the 13-team 1930 edition), but have failed to progress past this stage of the competition since.
In this year’s World Cup, both sides have been successful, as neither team has lost a match up to this point. The Netherlands topped Group A after defeating both Senegal and Qatar with a 2-0 scoreline, and holding a feisty Ecuador side which was unlucky not to progress to a 1-1 draw. The United States, on the other hand, drew each of their first two games in Group B against Wales and England respectively, and just barely got themselves over the line against Iran thanks to Christian Pulisic’s winning goal in the first half on Tuesday.
Both Louis Van Gaal and Gregg Berhalter have opted for practical football thus far which prioritizes defense, and it paid off in the groups, with both sides only conceding once across the three matches. The Netherlands, however, were able to slot five goals home compared to the United States’ two due mainly to their star man up top, Cody Gakpo. The 23-year-old — who had briefly been linked with Everton in the summer — has been on a tear this year for both club and country, having scored 9 goals and assisted a further 12 for PSV before the World Cup, and now having scored 3 in 3 for the Oranje.
On the other hand, the United States’ star man delivered when he was needed most against Iran. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic had to leave the game after scoring the eventual winner due to the pelvic contusion he suffered in the act of guiding the ball home, but it seems he will be ready to go for the biggest game of his career thus far.
And so, two teams who play sensible and sometimes boring football will compete to become not only the first nation through to the Quarterfinals, but also the team which can redeem their respective 2018 disasters in what promises to be a tense and nervy affair. I fully expect it to be a low scoring game which will be decided by a single moment of quality. My prediction: 0-0 after 90 minutes with an Extra Time winner for my United States squad. Sorry not sorry.