The Netherlands will face Argentina on Friday, with a place in the World Cup semifinals at stake. The winners of this enticing matchup will face either Brazil or Croatia.
Netherlands Key Player: Cody Gakpo
In a side that has yet to exceed 1.5 expected goals (xG) in a single match and relies heavily on converting chances when they come around, PSV star Cody Gakpo is the key man. His 79.7 shooting grade ranks first among his teammates at the 2022 World Cup.
The 23-year-old is the Netherlands' leading goalscorer at the World Cup with three goals, while no other dutch player has more than one. Gakpo has accumulated only 0.74 xG at the World Cup, so he may be in line for some regression, but the Netherlands will be relying on him to keep up his clinical streak for a little longer.
Argentina Key Player: Lionel Messi
Everyone, including the Netherlands, knows Argentina's attack runs through Lionel Messi, but that doesn’t make him any easier to stop. The PSG forward has the most positively graded shots of any player at the World Cup (5), and his ability to score from nothing will terrify Van Dijk, Ake, and the rest of the Netherlands' defense.
Messi’s 81.1 passing grade at the World Cup leads all players at his position, highlighting how he is also the most dangerous creator on the pitch. He leads Argentina in both completed line-breaking passes and line-breaking passes received, with 25 and 27, respectively.
Matchup to watch: Frenkie De Jong vs. Enzo Fernandez
Since his introduction halfway through the group stages, 21-year-old Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez has improved the balance of the Argentina team. His 78.3 challenge grade ranks 22nd among central midfielders at the World Cup; he will be key when it comes to disrupting the dynamic Dutch counterattacks at the source. Also a good passer, Fernandez has completed the third-most passes for Argentina despite starting just two matches.
Once Messi gets the ball, it’s already too late. So the goal for the Netherlands should be to limit the service into him, which is where Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong will be key. De Jong has earned an 82.8 challenge grade this World Cup, 10th at his position. If he can disrupt Enzo Fernandez progressing the ball, it will help to limit the influence of Messi.
As well as winning the ball in midfield, De Jong can instigate the flying counterattacks the Dutch have thrived on this World Cup. He has a 76.6 passing grade, and his 35 completed line-breaking passes are the third-most among all players.
Whichever one of these two all-round midfielders comes out on top in their battle to command the middle of the pitch will go a long way to deciding the final result.