Dutch fans of a certain vintage get misty-eyed over memories of Johan Cruyff masterminding their 4-0 demolition of Argentina in 1974 but then must forget their 3-1 extra-time defeat in the final four years later.
For a slightly younger generation there was Dennis Bergkamp’s stunning quarter-final winner at the 1998 World Cup, certainly a happier memory than losing the 2014 semi-final on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes – a match which signalled the end of Louis Van Gaal’s first spell in charge.
Looking ahead to Friday’s quarter-final in Qatar, Van Gaal did his best to dampen the romanticism, pointing to the more defensive nature of modern football, but that could well mean it takes a moment of magic to separate the sides.
“(Bergkamp’s goal) was an amazing moment for the country, and what a goal,” Depay said. “This game will be decided by moments. We believe we can catch a moment and go through.”
The 71-year-old Van Gaal nodded as he listened to the Barcelona winger.
“Football is no longer being played as it was in 1998 or 1974 or whatever,” he said. “Then it was an open game which it no longer is. Football has evolved but it is always possible, as Memphis has said, to have decisive moments that you remember years later, like Bergkamp’s goal.”
The match gives Van Gaal an opportunity to settle the score from 2014 in what could be his final days as a coach. He will step down after this World Cup with Ronald Koeman due to start work in the new year, and though he plans to stop he said he could not rule out accepting another role if the right opportunity emerged.
“I’m only doing this for the country, it was an emergency situation and I committed to that,” he said. “But you never say never. We had a wonderful example in Dick Advocaat. He is older than me and recently took a job (at ADO Den Haag).
“If I am presented with a wonderful challenge it could well be I continue to work but I’m 71, even though I look marvellous.”
Argentina go into the match as slight favourites as their form has steadily improved since their shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, but there is pressure on Lionel Scaloni’s team with this World Cup surely Lionel Messi’s final chance to lift the trophy.
“We prepare for this match the same way we prepared for all the others,” Scaloni said. “Of course there is anxiety, we want the game to start right now. After five or six days we are eager to play but we are calm. I know the team will break their backs as they have done in the previous games.
“Sometimes we have played well, sometimes not, but we have always faced our opponents. That’s what our people value the most. We know we will give it all on the pitch.
“Sometimes football can be beautiful. Sometimes football can be cruel.”
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