For the next few years, the United States football team can look back on a Saturday evening in Doha as a reference. When Gregg Berhalter’s urgent young side was given a good, old-fashioned footballing lesson.
Dutch masters Louis van Gaal’s players are not. But they displayed sufficient technique and talent to outline the flaws in the American projection of their philosophy.
Posession and control only has relevance if it can be allied to precision.
“I talked to the team about moments and the first-half was a great indication of that,” Berhalter reflected after the 3-1 defeat.
“We were on top for a lot of the first-half and two moments come and all of a sudden we’re down 2-0.
“I said at half-tme that soccer can be cruel but we’ve got to keep going.”
And he tried because it had started according to plan.
Barely three minutes into the last-16 at the Khalifa International Stadium and Christian Pulisic had the first opening.
The Chelsea striker was clean through but his shot was too close to Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert.
The Dutch gradually settled into the game of watching the Americans keep the ball.
But it was Louis van Gaal’s side that made the breakthrough after 10 minutes following a sweeping cross-field move which finished with Denzel Dumfries pulling the ball back towards the penalty spot for Memphis Depay to sweep in past the American goalkeeper Matt Turner.
A simple vignette on how to subvert authority.
And the Americans failed to take heed. They reasserted their hustle but failed to create chances inside the penalty area.
With half-time approaching, Timothy Weah opted for direct action and unleashed a fierce drive from outside the penalty area that Noppert shovelled away.
And with virtually the last action of the half, the Netherlands seemingly followed the ley lines.
Dumfries was set free down the right and cut back to the same spot for Daley Blind to guide the ball past Turner into more or less the same place as Depay had sent it.
Berhalter sent on striker Giovanni Reyna for Jesus Ferreira in an attempt to find salvaton.
But it was the defender Tim Ream who nearly reignited their comeback: Cody Gakpo hacked his goal-bound prod off the line.
Haji Wright, sent through by a sloppy back pass from Depay, was unable to convert but he had more success after 76 minutes when the ball looped freakishly off his heel and over Noppert into the net.
For all the intended culture, it was vaudeville that halved the deficit. With 14 minutes left, the 44,000 fans in the stadium injected their voices into the jeopardy.
But with nine minutes remaining, it was the Dutch rejoicing anew.
Frenkie de Jong surged down the left and was left unchallenged to look up and spot Dumfries unmarked onthe right.
He floated over a cross which the coltish winger volleyed elegantly past Turner.
It was fitting reward for his industry.
“That was tough,” said Berhalter of the coup de grace. “But I’m extremely proud with how this group handled themselves both on and off the field.
“We set out with a goal to show the rest of the world how we can play soccer and we partially achieved that although we fell short.”
The Netherlands will play Argentina or Australia in the last eight.
Dumfries, who was awarded the man-of-the-match trophy, predicted a success for the Americans.
“I think they have a great deal of talent,” said the Inter Milan defender.
“They have a lot of energy and cover big distances. I think they could grow into an elite team.”
Provided they learn their lessons.
Source: Modern Ghana