Argentina vs Netherlands: ‘Aging genius’ Lionel Messi looking to inspire La Celeste



CNN

Lionel Messi and Argentina are three games away from winning the World Cup, but against the Netherlands they will face their toughest test of the tournament so far.

Friday’s quarter-final at Lusail Stadium is an exciting contest, not least because of the World Cup history between the two teams.

They last met in the semi-finals eight years ago – a goalless game eventually won by Argentina on penalties – and before that they had contested two other knockout games: a quarter-final in 1998 – best remembered for his stunning winning goal Dennis Bergkamp – and the final in 1978 when Argentina won the World Cup for the first time.

Several key players remain from the 2014 meeting. For the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal is back as manager and veteran left-back Daley Blind is still a key part of the national team, while Messi remains Argentina’s talisman and most potent striker. threatening.

Much of the interest, as always, will be on 35-year-old Messi, who has been central to Argentina’s best moments in the competition so far.

With three goals – including a superb strike in Mexico and a well-worked move against Australia – and one assist in four games, Messi is the heartbeat of this Argentina side, even in the twilight of his career.

“At this point in his career, he’s an aging genius,” sports scientist Simon Brundish told CNN Sport. “He doesn’t have the ability to make that run [Paulo] Dybala in the team would, but he’s a genius and he’ll win you games.”

Indeed, attention has been drawn to how much Messi has walked during Argentina’s World Cup games – slowly working into space before bursting into life to create scoring chances.

Against Australia in the round of 16, for example, he walked 4,752.7 meters – 300 meters more than anyone else on the pitch, according to FIFA.

“If you specifically watch Messi, you’ll see that he stands in space so much when the opposition have the ball,” Brundish explained, adding that the amount Messi walks also speaks to Argentina’s defensive organisation.

“Argentina built their system around him not being involved in the press,” Brundish said. “It’s not a high-pressure team anyway… It was never part of Messi’s game and his role doesn’t include that.”

Both teams suffered setbacks in Qatar – Argentina a surprise loss to Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands a draw with Ecuador – and both hope to reach the final four for the first time since 2014.

Julián Álvarez looks to control the ball against Australia.

The Netherlands looked impressive going forward through Cody Gakpo, who has three goals to his name this World Cup, and Memphis Depay, who completed a superb move against the USA in the last 16.

But Argentina will be hoping that their main playmaker can add to his goal tally by unlocking Holland’s three-position defense at the back.

“Leo surprises you every day with the things he does,” midfielder Alexis McAllister told reporters on Thursday. “You can see he’s happy and, for us, that’s very important.”

However, this Argentina team is about more than just Messi. Midfielder Enzo Fernández and striker Julián Álvarez had impressive campaigns and goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez made some crucial saves, especially against Australia.

“It’s not about me, or the Netherlands, against Messi, it’s about the Netherlands against Argentina,” Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk told reporters this week, according to Reuters. “They are a fantastic team with fantastic players and we should do well in all parts of the game.”

Virgil van Dijk is training ahead of the quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina.

Having lost three previous World Cup finals and failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament, van Gaal’s side will likely feel a sense of unfinished business in Qatar.

Data insight company Nielsen has Argentina as quarter-final favorites with a 58% chance of advancing, but neither team has had a chance to test themselves against one of the tournament’s top teams.

But that is about to change. The winner of Friday’s match will likely face Brazil in the semi-finals, although the five-time champions will have to get past Croatia in their own quarter-final first.

Brazil vs. Croatia: 10 a.m. ET at Education City Stadium

Argentina v Netherlands: 2 p.m. ET at Lusail Stadium

USA: Fox Sports

UK: BBC or ITV

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

Canada: Bell Media

South Africa: SABC

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