Dutch flier Dumfries a key figure to expose rivals' gaps
DOHA: Denzel Dumfries had a slow start at the World Cup but the Netherlands wing-back hit his stride in spectacular style in the last-16 match against the United States.
The Inter Milan defender -- one of the breakout stars at last year's Euro 2020 -- provided two assists and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win to help set up tomorrow's quarter-final clash with Argentina.
The Dutch will need to find a way of stopping Lionel Messi as the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner continues his quest for a maiden World Cup title.
But coach Louis van Gaal will be hoping that his side can expose gaps behind the Argentina defence on the counter-attack, for which Dumfries and fellow wing-back Daley Blind will be crucial.
The pair assisted each other's goals in the victory over the Americans as Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 formation paid dividends.
"He is [important]. He got a lot of criticism in the first games but we know what he can do and he showed it today," midfielder Davy Klaassen said after the last-16 tie. "In this system, the wing-backs are really important and if you see them assisting each other today, this is what you want."
Wide players have been more important than usual in Qatar, according to Arsene Wenger, now Fifa's football development chief.
"The sides with the best wingers are those who have the best chances to win because the game is changing towards the wings," said Wenger.
"Teams are blocking the centre, and attacks are going towards both sides."
The Netherlands' width comes from Blind and Dumfries, with Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo starting in a narrower front two ahead of Klaassen.
The positives of that system were best shown by their opening goal when a sweeping 20-pass move was finished off by Depay from Dumfries' cut-back.
"In that goal you see all the facets of the system that we play," said Dumfries.
"We really at- tack the spaces and change sides really well. It was a fantastic team goal. This is where you see the core of the system being executed."
The Netherlands laboured at times in the first round but still finished top of Group A after wins over hosts Qatar and Senegal and a draw with Ecuador.
"We knew before that we could play better. In the group stage we didn't lose but we felt that we could play better," said Dumfries, who is named after US film star Denzel Washington
The three-time runners-up are hoping to peak at the right time in their bid to win the title for the first time.
"We came here with one goal and that's to become world champions," said captain Virgil van Dijk.