The first matchup of the 2022 World Cup knockout stage saw the Netherlands dump the United States out of the tournament. It was a simple story of one team taking their chances, and the other failing to do so. The Netherlands scored their three goals with their first three shots on target of the match, but the United States’ defensive organization, or lack thereof, made it easy for the Oranje to be decisive and deadly in the final third.
After Christian Pulisic missed a gilt-edged chance on his left foot just minutes into the game, Memphis opened the scoring in the 10th minute after getting on the edge of Denzel Dumfries’ cutback on the back of a beautiful team move. The Barcelona forward was left completely unmarked about 16 yards from goal, and expertly smashed home the cross into the bottom-left corner of Matt Turner’s goal after making a later run into the box.
Daley Blind made it two just seconds before the half-time whistle in almost identical fashion; another wide open cutback from Dumfries placed adeptly into the same corner. That second goal was a killer for the United States, and despite Haji Wright pulling a goal back in the 76th minute in unusual fashion, Dumfries got a goal for himself in the 81st minute to put the game well and truly out of the Americans’ reach.
Linked with a move to Everton the summer Rafa Benitez was appointed, Dumfries was a thorn in the USMNT's side all game long with his strong and incisive runs down the right, and deserved the Man of the Match award for his pair of assists capped off with a goal.
Louis Van Gaal’s side were more than happy to sit off the United States in the middle third, allowing Berhalter’s side 58% possession throughout the match. They relied on their quality defenders and a very good goalkeeping performance from Andries Noppert to keep the Americans out, and then they countered with great effect.
Although it may not have been the total football Johan Cruyff would expect, Van Gaal’s side were well-drilled and efficient, scoring their three goals from 1.77 xG. The United States, on the other hand, were wasteful, and their one goal from 1.51 xG came from an awkward backheel attempt from Haji Wright, who had wasted a fantastic chance just prior to somehow looping the ball in at the back post. It’s hard not to think about how different the game may have been if Pulisic had buried his opportunity in the 3rd minute which had an xG of 0.42. Had the Chelsea man converted, the Dutch game plan would have had to completely change, and an American victory would have been a real possibility. However, Pulisic failed to deliver in one of the biggest moments of his career which is a real shame.
Now, Van Gaal’s team will face Argentina who just beat Australia, with the Oranje’s quest for their first World Cup clashing against Lionel Messi's hunt for his own first World Cup trophy in what is likely his last tournament.
The USMNT, on the other hand, will get on a plane home tomorrow morning, making it the third consecutive time they have qualified for the knockout rounds only to crash out at the first hurdle. Their 2022 World Cup dreams are over, and Gregg Berhalter’s tenure as manager likely is as well. Their young players will now look forward to 2026, when they will be jointly hosting the World Cup with a squad which should be well and truly in its prime at that time. They will be hoping to make a much deeper run than the one we saw end today.