If this is boring football then give Louis van Gaal more. The Netherlands’ head coach has bristled at claims he has created a tedious team but they had far too much class and intelligence for the USA as they comfortably advanced into the quarter-finals in Qatar.
The Internazionale defender Denzel Dumfries was the architect of the US’ demise with two assists and a fine third goal that extinguished any chance of a comeback by Gregg Berhalter’s side. The Netherlands now have five days’ rest before facing the winner of Argentina v Australia on Friday, while the co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup have four years to digest the painful lesson they were handed at the Khalifa International Stadium.
The Netherlands’ formation offered the US the opportunity to get behind their wing-backs and stretch a three-man central defence. In theory, at least. In practice, the Netherlands gave their opponents nothing to exploit. Van Gaal’s team were content to let the US bring the ball out from the back before compressing the space in midfield, seizing possession and striking on the counter. The ploy worked to perfection when they took an early lead from their first meaningful attack.
It was a beautifully worked breakthrough that started in their own half and prised the US apart in seven pristine passes. Memphis Depay was involved at the outset and at the conclusion. Having carved open the US midfield with a series of one-touch passes Cody Gakpo surged forward and released Dumfries on the right. The defender pulled back an intelligent cross towards the penalty spot where the unmarked Depay converted into the bottom corner. So much for the boring football that Van Gaal’s team have been accused of playing: they lured the US into a trap and punished them in flowing, polished style.
The complexion of the first knockout tie could have been so much different had Christian Pulisic converted a one-on-one after three minutes. Pulisic, cleared to play after sustaining a pelvic injury when scoring the crucial winner against Iran on Tuesday, found himself free inside the area from a Tyler Adams flick. He was denied by the outstretched leg of Andries Noppert and Berhalter’s team rarely troubled the goalkeeper again for the remainder of the first half. The US were too safe, too pedestrian. They looked short of ideas on how to recover from falling behind for first time at this tournament. On the few occasions they did find gaps in the Dutch defence, hopes of an equaliser were invariably ruined by a poor final touch.
All hope appeared lost for the US when the Netherlands doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time. It was almost a carbon copy of the opener. Dumfries escaped down the right once again, latching on to a deft touch from Davy Klaassen, and played an identical cross to the first goal. This time Daley Blind arrived in space to tuck away a neat finish into the same corner that Depay found. Blind, who had earlier skied a similar invitation from Dumfries, sprinted over to the Netherlands’ technical area to celebrate with his father, Danny, who is also Van Gaal’s assistant.
The US, to their credit, did not let the deficit or the timing of the second goal deflate them. A much-improved second half display almost brought an early response when Pulisic’s corner dropped to Tim Ream, whose awkward touch took the ball beyond Noppert. Gakpo was perfectly placed to clear off the line, however.
The substitute Haji Wright injected much-needed menace into the US attack and he was also denied on the goalline after pouncing on a careless back-pass from Depay and rounding the Netherlands keeper. Dumfries came to his team’s rescue on that occasion. But a minute later Wright had his goal and the US had a route back. Depay was culpable again with a loose touch that DeAndre Yedlin turned on to Pulisic. The Chelsea forward crossed low from the right and Wright, falling in front of Virgil van Dijk, somehow managed to flick the ball over Noppert with his heel. Dumfries was unable to intervene at the back post this time, but the hugely influential defender had another part to play in the US’s downfall.
Five minutes after the US were back in the game, they were out again. Blind delivered an inch-perfect cross to the back post for his fellow wing-back to steer an unstoppable left-footed volley into the far corner, ensuring the Netherlands comfortably booked their place in the last eight.