The 2022 World Cup knockouts are continuing where the group stages left off: exciting, fun, packed with tension. With so much happening every day, ESPN India attempts to pick out the one magical moment that defined the day's action.
For day 14, we cheat a bit, and pick two moments. A Daley Blind goal. A Daley Blind assist. Two moments that were the tangible results of the Netherlands' dominance over the United States of America.
Sergino Dest. Weston McKennie. Timothy Weah. If there ever was a right flank that epitomised the athleticism of modern football, this was it. Fast, relentless, intelligent, talented, young.
Up against them, playing left wing-back for the Netherlands in this round-of-16 tie? A short, balding, unathletic-looking man well into his 30s. Look at him objectively and the football jersey feels a bit incongruent on him; like he's turned up in the full kit of his favourite team for a weekend kickabout. Where are your khakis and check shirts, man?
All that space on the flank, those three motor-powered youngsters in front of him. *Shudder*.
Add to all this that this was a man who had had an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator inserted into his heart just three years ago, a man who had collapsed on the pitch after this ICD had gone off just two years previously, and it's almost cruel.
You see, no footballing nation on the planet manipulates space quite the like the Dutch. And once the space is controlled, it becomes all about who is better with the ball at their feet. And on that pitch, on that night -- on most football pitches, on most nights -- there wasn't (isn't) a footballer better with the ball at their feet than Daley Blind. There's a reason this match was his 98th for the Netherlands.
Sample the two moments of tangible impact he had on the game.
In the first instance, he hangs back on the flank as he allows Memphis Depay and Cody Gapko to pull the US defence deeper into their box, compressing the defensive pack. Denzel Dumfries, as different an athletic specimen to Blind as can be, cuts it back from the byline on the right flank towards the edge of the box. As the ball zips diagonally across the box, Blind calmly jogs onto it and slots it into the bottom corner with a first-time finish. With his weak foot. When he connects with it, he's at the penalty spot, completely unmarked. In stoppage time at the end of the first half, he's made it 2-0.
In the second instance, he gets the ball deep on the left flank. Inexplicably, he's completely unmarked yet again -- not a single white shirt within 10 metres of him. A touch to tee himself up, and a wicked cross that picks out Dumfries (also horribly unmarked) with laser-like precision. At times, Blind makes it all looks oh, so simple. The goal makes it 3-1 in the 81st minute and that's the game.
Look at the game from afar and it feels like the US had dominated it. They had more shots, made more passes, won more corners, ran more, and had much more possession. It's like taking a cursory glance at Blind vs Dest and McKennie and Weah. No contest. Look at it a bit deeper, though, and it is still a no-contest, just not in the way you thought at first. Blind, like the rest of his teammates, had allowed the USA to keep the ball for as long as they wanted but only in areas that were dictated to by the Dutch.
At 32 years & 269 days old, Daley Blind was the oldest Dutch player on the pitch against the USA.
A goal, an assist, a match-high 9 duels won and he made more tackles than any other player (7).
- Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) December 3, 2022
The Americans did all the running, the Dutch did all the picking off. On the opposite flank, Dumfries ripped USA apart - Louis Van Gaal's two contrasting wing-backs ran the game without USA coach Gregg Berhalter even realising it for the most part. While defensively, they had settled into a disciplined 5-3-2 formation, in attack the Dutch morphed into 3-3-4.
With the two centre-forwards occupying the channels between centre-back and fullback and with the midfielders shuffling inside and bringing their American counterparts inside with them, Blind and Dumfries had the freedom of their flanks. All three goals came from the direct involvement of the wingbacks, two of them had one assisting the other: our two moments of the day.
Within those two moments lay the secret of Louis Van Gaal's master plan. And in Blind's own continued success lay the beauty of Dutch football. Football, the Dutch way... the Daley Blind way. What a sight it is in full flow.