Netherlands vs Argentina comment World Cup 2014: Nigel de Jong sets tone as muzzled Lionel Messi meets match in Dutch defence

The best player in the world also brought out the best in the defenders he was facing

Sao Paulo

Just minutes into last night’s match, Lionel Messi dropped right back into his own half to collect a throw-in. It was still not enough to throw off Nigel de Jong.

NETHERLANDS VS ARGENTINA - AS IT HAPPENED

There, as Messi turned, was the Dutch defensive midfielder. He was within three yards of the No 10 and rarely strayed much further until he tired and was taken off on 62 minutes, which only ensured someone else took up the baton.

When the playmaker eventually got away, he found Dirk Kuyt there all too willing to clatter him to the ground. It was to be a theme of the game, and its central crux, creating such a tense occasion.

No matter what Arjen Robben ended up doing, its effect was still dependent on how well the Dutch coped with Messi.

Video: Netherlands vs Argentina match report

The manner in which he dominated the psychology of this match could be seen before kick-off. Even the Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal, who has never exactly been a man for airs and graces, stayed lingering around the line-ups in order to catch Messi’s eye and shake his hand. Many of the manager’s players were the same.

The match itself, then, followed a similar mindset. The Netherlands were initially so obsessed with just getting close to Messi that they were almost petrified to stray too far forward. He conditioned everything that took place.

 

That did not just represent a challenge for the Dutch, of course, but for the player himself and his team. The focused tightness of such defending requires top-level responses.

It also came amid difficult personal circumstances. Jorge Lopez, the Argentinian journalist who died on the eve of the game, was Messi’s closest friend in the country’s media. Even a fixture such as a World Cup semi-final seems utterly trivial next to such a tragedy, but the reality was Messi had to persevere through it.

“Perseverance” was one way to sum up the pattern of the match. Messi eventually evaded De Jong again with a determined burst down the line, beating two players before checking back in. But Messi or other Argentina attackers were themselves challenged with a certain aggression on occasions.

Read more: Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 match report
Van Gaal decides against Krul substitution
World Cup fixtures and results

It was another dilemma facing the Dutch. How close were they willing to go to the aggression of the 2010 final in order to stop Messi, and thereby risk the kind of cards that would leave them with only 10 men?

On 37 minutes, Bruno Martins Indi escaped sanction for what seemed a clear elbow into the playmaker’s ribs, but Messi did later force the defender into a booking with one sublime piece of trickery out on the right.

Another such foul did leave Messi with a chance to put Argentina 1-0 up midway through the first half, but his free-kick was too central, allowing goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen to easily grip it.

The Dutch did step out a little more at the beginning of the second half, which seemed to release Messi. There were two immediate warnings. The first was when he was caught just offside with one break. The second was when the ball suddenly broke to him. He got around De Jong with sheer pace but the space still had not opened up enough. There was still another body blocking the way.

It needed a little more than physicality minutes later. It needed exquisite timing, which Ron Vlaar provided. With Messi just looking to skip to the left and set himself up on the edge of the box, the Aston Villa defender got his foot to the ball perfectly.

At the very least, it could be said the best player in the world also brought out the best in the defenders he was facing.

By then, De Jong had gone off, but the seamless way the Dutch kept shackling was impressive.

It was a game of dogged tenacity and tension rather than devastating technique. Van Gaal’s effective personal duel with Messi fully displayed that.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own