Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk said he “only has respect” for Argentina’s Lionel Messi but believes unity on the Netherlands pitch can make all the difference in Friday’s World Cup quarterfinals.
The Netherlands haven’t always been known for their team spirit at the World Cup, but they were pictured returning to their hotel in a festive mood after their Round of 16 win over the United States. Coach Louis van Gaal led the way while dancing and celebrating with hotel staff and Van Dijk believes the togetherness in the Dutch team is “special”.
“Everyone knows their role, everyone feels their responsibility to achieve success,” said the Liverpool defender. “It is difficult for players who are not starters. There are 15 players who want to start and aren’t. It’s hard to keep being there for each other, but everyone is, and that’s the key to success.”
Van Dijk said the feeling of unity even extended to the staff at the team hotel in Doha. “The scenes after the game at the hotel, the people who work at the hotel, the staff who help us every day were there for us, to welcome us and cheer us on,” he said. “They are also part of the success so far, and we hope that we can continue like this.”
There will be no time for parties when the Dutch take on Argentina in a showdown between two of the most iconic teams in the World Cup. The South Americans came out on top when the two teams met in the semifinal of the 2014 tournament, going on penalties after a tense 0-0 draw. Van Dijk said the Netherlands have been taking penalties “since we’ve been together” and “have to be prepared” for the prospect of another shootout.
“It doesn’t guarantee that in a game where you play in a stadium full of 80,000 people and there’s a semi-final at stake, everything will turn out the same,” he said. “We try to do everything we can to be ready, but I hope we don’t get to that stage and we can decide the game early.”
The Netherlands will look to Van Dijk to stop Messi in what could be the Argentine great’s last World Cup game. The defender paid tribute to “one of the best players of all time”, but warned that Argentina is not a one-man team. “We’re not just preparing to beat them, we’re training to beat Argentina,” he said. “We know how important he is to his success over the years.”