Sky Sports’ Writers report on what happened on Saturday as the final round of the World Cup continues…
Messi’s magic lights up this Argentinian team
The legs aren’t moving as fast as they used to and everyone knows we’re in the finals now but is there a more exciting sight in football than Lionel Messi with the ball at his feet? Through another quarter-final victory over Australia, his World Cup dream is alive.
This was Messi’s best game of the tournament. He had a lot of shots and created a lot of chances. It took his magic to open up the opposition and once he did that he was able to enjoy himself. Argentina’s hope is that it is a sign of things to come.
Argentina have been favorites in every game so far and the nature of this match is Messi’s attempt to find space where the opposition is trying to stop him. But if Argentina goes to Qatar there will be different types of tests in the future.
His performance when his team was ahead could show how dangerous he can be at the end of this World Cup. If the opponents follow a more open game against Argentina then it will be a big mistake because Messi is still there.
Scaloni’s Argentina continues to thrive
“I’m playing with Leo beautifully,” said Lionel Scaloni afterwards, “these are very happy moments.” The Argentinian manager also deserves a lot of praise. He has bounced back this World Cup campaign after a dreadful start against Saudi Arabia.
There have been more open teams in Argentina than this one but in the last eight World Cups, they have failed. This seems likely to increase his chances. The winning ball he gave in the Copa America is still with him.
The team is clearly built around Messi but Scaloni continues to improve things, making the changes more visible and straightforward. The appearance of Julian Alvarez helps. He brings the energy needed for Messi’s limited ball movement.
Scaloni is capable of turning the full back and, tactically, it is interesting that he can switch to a back three if the situation calls for it. With Angel Di Maria potentially available at quarterback, there are options. And with Messi, there is always hope.
Australia exceeded all expectations
Although Argentina were dominant, they created little before Messi’s goal and needed more money to avoid conceding a late goal. That is a testament to Graham Arnold’s work in turning his team into formidable opponents at this World Cup.
Scaloni praised Arnold’s team for “a very smart push” and in the opening half-hour, in particular, they caused many problems for Argentina. Had Aziz Behich or Garang Kuol grabbed a late goal then who knows what would have happened in extra time.
Expectations were not high and the coach was criticized coming into the competition. But a humble team has been remembered in Qatar, winning as many matches at this World Cup as they have at every World Cup combined. There should be only pride.
Netherlands’ Van Gaal shows why he favors caution over chaos in win over USA
At the end of the group stage, Louis van Gaal shot down suggestions from the Dutch media that his side was boring and he needed to open up. His first-half victory against the USA in the last 16 seemed to be a direct message to the media: I know how to advance in major tournaments.
From the first whistle, the Netherlands let the USA have the ball and went back to the middle of the block. The Americans, who thrived on the energy and passion of their midfield in the previous game in Qatar, suddenly found themselves needing to break through a well-prepared defense. They were suffering.
And when they went down, the Netherlands burst with speed, running up the pitch and doing well to expose their opponents’ central defence. It was a process that required humility from the favorites – but the Dutch were 2-0 up and comfortable at the break.
In the second quarter, the calm turned to chaos. Whether it was the Dutch’s overconfidence or the USA’s determination to throw everything they had at the problem, the game opened up.
Twice as the Netherlands cleared the ball from their own line before Haji Wright’s goal, a rare header reduced the deficit for the USA. There were chances on both sides – although the USA’s ambition was their downfall, with Denzel Dumfries’ goal, just after being beaten by Wright, to end the chance for a big change.
It was an exciting – but unexpected – second half. And that’s not how Van Gaal wants it. They are undefeated in the games they are leading at the World Cup. Netherlands fans should trust his judgement.
Can USA overcome 16 home challenges in 2026?
USA manager Gregg Berhalter praised his team’s “progress” towards Qatar 2022 after losing to the Netherlands in Doha in the last 16 on Saturday, before admitting they had “fallen short” in their bid. making the quarter finals of the World Cup for the first time in their history.
Perhaps if we were talking about Christian Pulisic’s final debut, as he should have, he opened the scoring early instead of changing his lines as the USA dominated the early exchanges.
But in the end, the Netherlands’ vast experience, athleticism and finishing saw Louis van Gaal’s team over the line as the USA were knocked out in the 16-16 round of the World Cup for the third time in a row.
However, based on their impressive performances in the group – where they were unbeaten, including a goalless win against England – the likes of Tyler Adams, Pulisic, Sergino Dest, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie all drew attention, and some fans reacted. The World Cup is in North America, don’t bet on the USA finally breaking their last eight hoodoo sometime.