By Martyn Herman
DOHA (Reuters) – Netherlands attacking midfielder Denzel Dumfries said recent criticism had helped him deliver a decisive performance in the Netherlands’ 3-1 victory over the United States in the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar on Saturday .
The Inter Milan man produced a virtuosic display, providing first-half assists for goals by Memphis Depay and Daley Blind, then scoring a late goal to end American hopes of a comeback.
Despite qualifying for the knockout stage by comfortably winning Group A, Louis Van Gaal’s side hadn’t exactly set the tournament on fire with their attacking line in the spotlight.
“The object of the match was to win and I’m glad I was able to help the team,” said Dumfries, whose parents named him after American actor Denzel Washington.
“I was also happy for Daley (Blind). To be honest, we’ve had some criticism lately. And I think it’s a good boost for both of us that we were important tonight for the group.”
Manager Louis van Gaal promised a “big fat kiss” to Dumfries if he returned to play well against the Americans and whatever Dumfries thought of that possibility, he certainly proved to be the difference against the United States at Khalifa Stadium.
He became the first Dutch player since the hectic days of “Total Football” in the 1970s to be involved in a hat-trick in a World Cup match, emulating Rob Rensenbrink (twice in 1978) and the great Johan Cruyff (1974). .
Dumfries said the first goal, his assist for Depay after a 20-pass move, showed just what the Dutch system is capable of when it’s in gear.
He also saw Van Gaal express glee, even as the veteran coach criticized his team’s first-half performance.
“I was very critical at half-time in my analysis with the players, even though we were in the lead,” he told reporters.
“These were fantastic goals, but in the first half we conceded so much and lost possession so often and that is not acceptable in a World Cup against top teams.”
“I thought in the second half we did a much better job. But overall, it gives us incredible confidence,” she said.
With a possible quarter-final looming against Argentina – the team they lost on penalties at the 2014 World Cup when Van Gaal was in his second spell in charge – a significant improvement will be needed.
But Van Gaal insists his team have “big chances”.
“The big teams haven’t advanced here and we still have three games to go,” he said. “Now we have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”
Captain Virgil Van Dijk also said that the Dutch still have some improvements to make if they are to have a chance of finally securing a World Cup title.
“Yes, it was better, but we are critical,” he said. “I think everyone in Holland is critical. But we are in the quarterfinals. I think we now have two extra days to recover which helps.”
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