World Cup: Daley Blind's faith in Oranje dream
Some moments are frozen in time. For Daley Blind, his first World Cup goal would be one such.
Immediately after scoring his side’s second goal against the United States on Saturday, the Dutch defender ran around 45 yards to the dugout to hug his father Danny Blind, an assistant to head coach Louis van Gaal and himself a former World Cup player. He kissed his father’s forehead as teammates and the support staff joined the celebrations at the stroke of half-time.
The celebrations would continue for Oranje no doubt as they became the first team in Qatar to book a place in the last-eight with a 3-1 win at the Khalifa International Stadium. This would be the seventh quarter-final appearance for the Netherlands, who have reached the final thrice without ever winning the title.
The Netherlands, who did not qualify for Russia 2018, have not really been troubled in the World Cup so far.
Van Gaal’s Dutch side, having been content to absorb pressure in the early moments of the game during which US forward Christian Pulisic missed a golden opportunity to score, struck in the 10th minute, capping a sweeping, full-field move — one that involved an impressive 20 passes — with a strike from Memphis Depay that whizzed into the lower left corner of the goal.
Denzel Dumfries, who assisted Depay on the goal, supplied a similar ball for the second goal just before the halftime whistle. Once again the American defence looked half-asleep. Sergino Dest did not pick up Blind’s run in the US area and the wingback smartly converted it off a Dumfries centre. Even before the ball had crossed the goalline, Blind was running towards his father on the bench.
The US’ only goal came in the 76th minute and seemed to defy the laws of physics. Pulisic drilled a cross into the box, and Haji Wright could only graze it with the outside of his right cleat, which was facing away from the goal. But the ball jumped off Wright’s foot, looped parabolically into the air, and spun over Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert to nestle into the net.
Five minutes later, Dumfries dashed the American dream to take the Netherlands through. Blind was the provider this time, sending in a cross from the left and the right back jabbed it home with his left foot.
The Americans under coach Gregg Berhalter had arrived in Qatar last month fresh-faced and with modest expectations. They were the second-youngest team at the tournament, representing a country returning to the World Cup for the first time in eight years.
But the grandeur of the World Cup, all the spirit and fanfare on the ground, has a way of making a group of players want more, of making them believe they can have it.
The Netherlands dashed those dreams — that little feeling of what if — in clinical fashion on Saturday night, exposing all the Americans’ deficiencies, making them look at once lifeless and aimless before 44,846 fans at the Khalifa Stadium. Van Gaal has promised to play all four knockout matches. The Netherlands will believe they can.
With inputs from NYTNS