Winger Denzel Dumfries said recent criticism had helped fire him up for a match-winning performance in the Netherlands’ World Cup last-16 victory over the United States on Saturday.
The Inter Milan player produced a virtuoso display as he set up first-half goals for Memphis Depay and Daley Blind and then scored himself, later on to kill off an American fightback.
Despite qualifying for the knockout stage by comfortably winning Group A, Louis Van Gaal’s side had not exactly set the tournament on fire with their forward line under the spotlight.
“The aim of the match was to win and I’m happy I was able to help the team,” said Dumfries, whose parents named him after American actor Denzel Washington.
“I was pleased for Daley (Blind) too. If I’m honest, we’ve had some criticism recently. And I think it’s a good boost for both of us that we were important tonight for the group.”
Coach Louis van Gaal promised a “big fat kiss” for Dumfries if he turned on the style against the Americans and whatever Dumfries thought of that prospect, he certainly proved the difference against the United States at the Khalifa Stadium.
He became the first Dutch player since the heady days of “Total Football” in the 1970s to be involved in three goals in a World Cup match, emulating Rob Rensenbrink (twice in 1978) and the great Johan Cruyff (1974).
Dumfries said the first goal, which he set up for Depay after a slick 20-pass move, showed just what the Dutch system is capable of when it clicks.
It also had Van Gaal purring with delight, even if the veteran coach was critical of his side’s first-half display.
“I was very critical at halftime in my analysis with the players despite us being in the lead,” he told reporters.
“They were fantastic goals but in the first half we suffered so much and were dispossessed so often and that’s not acceptable at a World Cup against top-notch countries.”
“I thought the second half we did a much better job. But overall this gives us incredible confidence.”
With a potential quarter-final against Argentina looming, the side they lost to on penalties at the 2014 World Cup when Van Gaal was in his second stint at the helm, a significant improvement will be required.
But Van Gaal insists his side have “big chances”.
“Big countries didn’t progress here and we still have three matches to go. Now we have to roll our sleeves up and get back to work.” he said.
Captain Virgil Van Dijk also said the Dutch still have some improvements to make if they are to have a chance of finally landing a World Cup title.
“Yeah it was better, but we’re critical. I think everyone in the Netherlands is critical. But we’re in the quarter-final. I think we have two days extra now to recover, so that helps,” he said.
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