How to stop Messi: Ron Vlaar

People still stop Ron Vlaar at the super market to ask him about his match, 8 years ago, versus Argentina and Messi. This will only become more the case in the coming days. Not many defenders can say that they silenced the little maestro. And that was all at the biggest platform: the World Cup. The AZ youth coach explains how.

So how do you prep for a match up with Messi?

“You don’t. You should prepare for a game versus Argentina. And that was then and it’s the same now. You do need to take into account his particular skill set and quality, but you need to anticipate as a team, on them as a team. But a team with Messi. I just told myself, that whenever Messi would be in my neck of the woods, I had to stop him.”

So it was a team task?

“Yes of course. No one was sacrificed to play or mark him. It’s important that you constantly watch him and check his movements, in particular when we have the ball. Those are the moments he is waiting for. He’ll drift, he’ll wander, he will go to the spaces inbetween, mostly strolling almost. You saw it versus Australia as well. And his team mates will know where he is, and when they get possession back, like a snake they’ll find him fast. Half a ball is enough for him to punish you really. So that is where we need to be sharp. And I think we did well, in 2014.”

So how important was blocking the pass lines to Messi?

“They play the exact same way now as they played in 2014. Find Messi and give him the ball. It was very visible this way versus the Aussies this time around. They were sloppy in the first half, so they didn’t really find him, but in the second half they did, and Messi was immediately threatening.”

How do you look back at those personal duels?

“People still ask me about this. And I think there are some cool photos from that match. I personally don’t remember the match as me versus him. I fought duels with a lot of players in that game but these duels are less important to the fans I guess. For me, the whole performance was important, the team performance. At the end of the day, you need to do your job as a defender, no matter who the opponent.”

But Messi’s feet are a tad quicker than the average other player..

“That is true which is why you need to be ready for him before he gets the ball. If you can anticipate his runs, you have a chance. If you react to him, you’re usually too late already. You have to scan constantly. You need to take into account what is happening and what can happen. Because if you allow him to turn and then run at you, you’re toast. He has speed, ball skills, he can go left, right. The key things are anticipating and reading the situation. The good thing is, Frenkie and De Roon have the tendency to constantly look around them, all the time. They should be ready for him.”

And the forward press is key too?

“Super important, because Messi loves to drop deep to find space and make his runs. You need to be compact. And you need to pressure him from two angles. Close in on him. Ake and Timber are very good in the press and that will be a major asset. I played in the Virgil role back then and my role is the same as Virgil’s: to be there when he slips through the cracks.”

And than there is the role of the holding mid.

“Yes, that was something Nigel de Jong did for us in that semi final and he had to leave the pitch for an hour or so. He had to be subbed and Jordy Clasie did his job as a sub, which he did ever so well. That was such an important performance, as Clasie hadn’t played a single minute. In this Oranje, I think De Roon will be key, for when Frenkie is on his bike. Don’t forget, Dumfries is also usually gone.”

Which Argentina is better you think, the 2014 team or the current team?

“I think the Brazil one was bnetter. They had a younger Messi, a younger Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero, Mascherano, really top players. And more individual qualities. But, just like then, this Argentina does play as a team.”

Are you confident for the game?

“Yes, I think Holland is actually better. We don’t play flash, but we play very business like. To win. I loke that. And if the play with the ball is not good, they still perform their tasks without the ball. This team is hard to beat. And we have players who can make a difference. I too enjoy good football, but winning is more important to me. I don’t care how. It’s not about how good you are, but are you good enough to win. And this Oranje is good enough to win.”

While we’re talking, I can see Messi make his way up to the training pitch at Doha!

“Haha, cool! Tell him I said hi!”


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  1. I forgot about clasie being subbed in. our back 5 is stronger than in 2014 and i think frenkie and de roon is stronger defensively than clasie and wijnaldum. Argentinas back 4 and gk are arguably similar in level to the 2014 squad.

    Martinez v romero – martinez is slightly better
    acuna v rojo – i believe acuna is still coming back from injury, rojo had a good tournament. – tie?
    otamendi v garay – garay had a great tournament. otamendi is error prone and older – slightly garay
    Romero (Could martinez start?) v demichelis – Romero is more physical, demichelis has the experience. – tie?
    molina v zabaleta – zabaleta wins
    de paul v mascherano – mascherano wins
    fernandez v biglia – i dont know fernandez well enough but he seems highly rated?

    The more I think about this game, the more optimistic i am. I think it’ll be a stalemate until depay creates something and another player gets a rebound to score. Klassen? 1-0 Netherlands.

    Predicted line ups anyone?

    Netherlands – same as vs usa

    Acuna otamendi martinez molina
    de paul Fernandez macallister
    Alvarez messi di maria (i think he will be fit but if not, gomez plays)

  2. Messi’s goal vs australia was all about his off the ball movement. He drifts in from a wide position, then he makes a cut inside the box so he arrives underneath the ball for a layoff that he can then take a shot with. I think blind is better suited to either following messi or more likely, communicating to ake, de roon etc about messis movement. As much as malacia may be the better 1v1 defender, i think the plan will be to prevent 1v1s from happening and blind is much better at this proactive organization than malacia.

    Key match ups.

    Messi v everyone – i think messi will tend to drift more to his right which may suit us better than on his left (dumfries may be higher up the pitch). I think de roon screening passes into messi will be the key to winning this game.

    Otamendi v depay/gakpo – I think we need to target otamendi. He’s experienced but a bit rash. I think we can expose him 1v1 easier than martinez/romero.

    Dumfries v acuna – I think dumfries will play a major role in our attack again. I cant see acuna/tagliafico handling dumfries power very well over 90 mimutes. Especially if argentina have more of the ball and are higher up the pitch.

  3. It’s kind of ironic / amusing that when it comes to shutting down Lionel Messi, the authoritative source is… Ron Vlaar. Even more so in 2022, let alone 2014. But he (along with others) did get the job done, and I agree with Anthony that our backline is far stronger this time around.

    Interestingly also, the Netherlands and Argentina have met 5 times in the World Cup:

    1974 — Netherlands 4 – Argentina 0
    1978 — Argentina 3 – Netherlands 1 (no comment)
    1998 — Netherlands 2 – Argentina 1
    2006 — Netherlands 0 – Argentina 0
    2014 — Netherlands 0 – Argentina 0 (Argentina advanced on penalties)

    Actually, the most recent goal in this match up was scored by Dennis Bergkamp in 1998 (you may remember that one)

    If only we could get a little more Bergkamp out of Berghuis or Bergwijn…

  4. Against Arjentina our biggest enemy will be kerala messi fans in qatar..then there could be biased refree,who might prefer to kiss Mesiha messi…We need to beat them both..

    1. The first half of extra time just concluded. A few sporadic opportunities for each team, but no goals still!

      I fear our match against Argentina will go like this…

  5. Agree, that was a really good read. Thanks, Jan. How do you stop Messi? Well, as I recollect, he was less good and less involved in the 2014 match after Martins Indi body checked him, hard. lol (I think Martins Indi ended up with a yellow on that, and was eventually subbed, with Blind, but…)

  6. I say this every tournament. Why speculate on penalties when you can play? Morocco has shown several times in this game that they can attack. They chose not to. Stupid.

      1. My son was just suggesting that they take penalties before the match as a pre-determined tie breaker, so that everyone knows the consequence before the match begins if it turns out to be a draw after extra time…

        I’m not sold

    1. @guillaume – Did you watch extra time? There was no possible way for Morocco to attack. They had 5 players who couldnt run anymore. They barely have enough energy to defend, so to send numbers forward and then ask them to make a full field recovery run is senseless and would be a massive risk. I think that their only option is to defend and play for penalties which turned out to be the right decision.

      1. @Anthony, Yes, of course, but they could have attacked in the first 90 minutes. They actually briefly did at the end of each half. And they did it well.

        My point was, why do it for 2×3 minutes, and not 2×45?

        In the end, you’re right, it was apparently the right decision.

  7. Jaa ja ja happy for morocco…end of boring tiki tik titk tiktitk….sidepass ,back pass no goal …Glad that spain out ..they thought they screwed germany but they got screwd…

  8. Amazing. At halftime of the Spain-Japan match, the announcers/commentators (Fox Network—US) were going on and on about Spain’s performance:, they were on their way to setting a new record for most passes completed in a match, how great was its midfield, how Japan was having difficulty even touching the ball, etc. And they weren’t entirely wrong. Turns out, Spain didn’t have a happy moment the rest of tournament. This is a funny game; and can turn harsh when a team starts to take a things a little bit for granted.

    What I like about the Oranje in this tournament is that they keep their collective noses to the grindstone.

    1. Now 2-0 Portugal! Pepe with a strong finish on a corner. He’s pretty old to be getting up that high!

      It’s a tough road back for the Swiss at this point

        1. The Puma away “road race” style jerseys aren’t doing them any favors either. Morocco seems to have avoided that fate with their home kits.

          If Portugal holds on, the Morocco – Portugal match would be red and green Christmas themed match…

          I’m still pulling for the Swiss though

  9. Ooo! The Swiss with a real chance there. Fernandes crosses, and the Portuguese goalkeeper to deflects it, but Freuler is not able to head over the keeper’s outstretched arm.

  10. Swiss committed suicide with the style of playing. Nevertheless, Portugal is a serious contender for the title. I used to hate them but no more. They are capable of beating France or England. I wouldn’t exclude a Brazil-Portugal in the final.

      1. Sorry Guillaume, this has got to be the worst defeat in Swiss history. What do you think went wrong? Is everybody turning on the coach? Even though I would assume Swiss are pretty laid back about this type of affair.

        1. Basically: we choked under pressure, as usual.

          One aspect is Widmer (right back) was out sick before the game. Inexplicably, the coach had no substitute in the team that plays this position. So he chose to play a new system (3 at the back) and use a midfielder instead. Team was not used to the system and the players seemed to always be self conscious about their placement in the field.

          That being said, oh boy. Us swiss people are really shy, reserved, unsure of our qualities and do not like to stand out. After a quarter final in 1954 in Switzerland, we have never been beyond the round of 16 in a WC. Today is actually the first time we scored in a knockout WC game since 1954: we scored no goal in 1994, 2006 (dreadful affair against Ukraine where we did not even score in the penalty shootout, lol), 2010 and 2014!

          So, I don’t think anybody here is surprised by yet another bad round of 16 game. People are disappointed because we were equally bad historically in knockout games at the euros, except last year when we beat France and almost went through against Spain in QF. So people thought we would at least try this time. Well, the players did not try, it seems.

          1. I mean, the players had high intensity against Serbia, but no aggressivity at all against Portugal. Boys against men, as I wrote during the game. It’s all in their head, and that makes me a bit sad for the missed opportunity…

          2. Oh wow, Guillaume I was not aware of these stats. I was under the impression that during the last 10-12 years Switzerland had a sort of a golden generation at hand which did better than previous ones but it seems like they didn’t get much farther. That last year game against France was epic. I also believe the previous coach was better (Petkovic?), not sure why he was replaced with Yakin.
            Better luck next time.

  11. NT is basically on the same path as in 1998. Play Arg and then Brazil. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we won the whole things beating Arg, Brazil and then Portugal in the final? Revenge on all of them in one fell swoop for the pains of the past.

    1. I don’t see any team in France’s part of the draw that can beat them, though I will be thrilled if any of them does, of course. Besides the 2016 final, I don’t think Portugal has ever beat them in a knockout game? I might be wrong.

  12. 5-1 with 3 goals by Ronaldo’s substitute. Thus guy may end top scorer out of nowhere. I had a lot of respect for the Swiss keeper but today he’s been a disaster however terrible defense has been.

  13. Seriously, is anyone having a better day today than Goncalo Ramos? A hat trick in his first World Cup start, plus an assist, and he gets subbed out for Cristiano Ronaldo in the 75th minute.

    The only person who could possibly be feeling any better today would be Fernando Santos…

  14. As expected portgual come out of group and look like genuine contenders. Benching Ronaldo paved a good break through for santos. This is the things you want to see in a team. Depth,quality,bench rotation.

  15. @ Jan

    From previous post.

    “I am not comparing the players but their situation. I am merely saying that a top striker like Giroud even gets hate from his fans. There is just no pleasing everybody, is there”

    To use Giroud’s situation as an argument point in context to berghuis situation is joke. Both are completely different

    Giroud has been underrated through out his career but that hasnt stopped him from delivering on big stage vs big teams vs big players. Remember his goal vs van dijk. When has he received criticism would you care to throw light on this. Surely underrated but criticized for what. Arsenal,Chelsea,Milan. Are you serious???

    “It goes to show that fans are 1) not always the sharpest in judging the value of a player and 2) communicate from the underbelly”.

    Berghuis vs lang vs Simons. Which value you are talking about.

    “It’s not about records. What records does Xavi have? or Noppert. it’s about the team and the role a player can play”.

    I was merely comparing giroud’s record to berghuis records and you take it it into a whole new direction bringing in xavi and noppert. The bottom line here is any player selected or given opportunity will wanna give his 100%. And yes look at noppert, out of nowhere. Imagine if others were given the same opportunity.

    “It disgusts me to see so much vitriol against a player who is busting his gut for the team you claim to support”

    You think only he can bust his gut for the team and the rest are on holiday. Another joke. We have gone over this again and again. It’s all comes down to his ( berghuis) limitations which is adaptibilty to different tempo of games. It’s you who dont want to accept this and instead want to paint a more brighter picture of him being somebody who he is not and never will be. You look at VDBeek,he was seen as the next big talent out of Ajax, what happened, who is next ??? This is where it’s all going wrong.

  16. Omit the VDBeek part. No relevance but what I’m trying to say is whether it is lang,Simons Veerman or anybody, they all will give what berghuis is giving in context to team cohesion. Though the dynamics will change based on their talents. This is no brainer.

  17. Morocco well done. Portugal has done a good job. When we look back into the group stage England won 6-2 and Spain 7-0 but both struggled in the next match. May be they peaked and when faced with determined opponent struggled to win. So portugal might face the same situation.

  18. @Jan

    “But lets criticise their actions or decisions and stop assassinating their characters.

    Lie with Kuyt and Blind, it becomes a bit spiteful. Or is it me?”

    I feel the same. I think you invest time and money to make this forum for all of us to share and enjoy the World Cup together, as a fan community.

    Hence, we use this space to analyze, comment and off course criticize. But here sometimes the critics go to far. It looks like some people have a secret agenda to destroy certain players and repeat themselves 10 times a day. And no matter how good this player perform, it’s always something wrong they are going to criticize or they are going to wait until this player make a mistake to say “I was right”

    The new victim is Berghuis it seems. We criticize not only the player but Van Gaal for using it. And I wonder, who are the alternatives? We don’t have Gullit or Van ser Vaart in the bench. The alternative are Klassen or Xavi Simmons (very young) or Lang, a Brujas player. So… come on…

    So, if Van Gaal don’t play the player that they want, it’s because of Van Gaal ego. Basically, the reason is “if Van Gaal don’t think like me it’s because his ego cloud his judgment”.

    Come on guys. Let’s discuss, let’s analyze, let’s criticize, but we are not experts, we dont know the plans for the game, we are not in the trainings, we don’t known what is going on there.

    Let’s enjoy the WC and lower the volume a little bit. We also own this to Jan, who works hard on this blog to enjoy and make us enjoy. Let’s finish this witch hunt. A lot of you bet for a defeat against US. Let’s trust Van Gaal and the team.

    In a funny note, don’t forget that Dumfries also clears a all on the line in minute 79 when Depay made a terrible pass to Noppert and was intercepted by Wright. So we owe him that too.

    Also, the same way Blind scored with his right foot, Dumfries scored with his left.

  19. @Wilson,

    ” When has he received criticism would you care to throw light on this. Surely underrated but criticized for what. Arsenal,Chelsea,Milan. Are you serious???”

    I’ve always liked Giroud, thought he was effective. But my recollection is that he has been subjected to sharp criticism and attacks from the French press and fan base throughout his career. So I was curious enough after your comment to do a quick Google search. These popped up immediately, and there are more. He’s to be admired for how he handled it, and how well he performed

  20. Just like what Wilson, Jean, myself and many others have reiterated, Berghuis is firmly now where he belongs; the bench.

    We may not be experts but it seems that all the Dutch football intellectual giants including Lvg have got it wrong about Berghuis. They tried to paint him as our Pirlo but come the knockout stage, the wily Lvg, like he did with Cillesen, played it safe. He stuck Berghuis on the bench and played the much maligned Cillesen when qualification hung in a balance.

    This is not to say that he will never go back to Berghuis just like how he dumped Cillesen after using him. It simply means that he very well knows that Berghuis was never good enough. It means that he knows that when push comes to shove, Berghuis would not be up to the task. His inclusion in all stages of the qualifiers, nations league, 2 world Cup games was just a shot at protecting his ego and proving himself right. But he knew.

    Because the case of Berghuis didn’t need much expertise to arrive at a conclusion. He takes risks but no assists to show for it, he doesn’t score goals, not defensively solid and has this outrageous knack of missing clear-cut chances.

    The experts see all this. But just how their minds are made up collectively in the case of a Blind, so they’ve this strange fascination of trying to make a Pirlo out of a player who has never showed any resolve.

    And Jan has this thing where he tries to convolute and conflate scenarios and things to proves his point. Bringing up critics of Giroud to make a point about how Berghuis is also a victim of such criticism is disingenuous and clearly a false equivalency.

    Maradona, Cruyff, Messi have all been criticised. So has Giroud. Trying to toss Berghuis in such conversation is laughable. The aforementioned players have all achieved things in their careers and proven, beyond criticism, that they are the real deal.

    But like we’ve said a thousand times in this blog, the first real challenge of this world Cup and his biggest fan did not play him a single minute.

    Go figure.

  21. Another analogy with 1982, its strange but true. France and England are set to meet again in a world cup match after 40 years. Last time they played on 16 June 1982, in a Worldcup group stage match where England won 3-1 against France.

  22. Van gaals Dutch lost to Portugal from 2002WCQ and got out…Van gaal has unfinished business with Arjentina and would be a dream if he deos that..Hope doesnt interfere at semifinal…We are going to face the most overrated team in this WC…

  23. @ Andrew

    Thanks for that article. The benzema exile was tense and complicated one and in between if not for it it would have +and – ( goals) between both of them. Benzema no doubt is a better striker than giroud. I’m sure no one will argue with this and on a given day if available benzema probably would start over giroud. Perhaps a factual criticism to make a point clear. I mean From a fan point of view.

    And it’s quite clear from the article as well what is the main context to receiving of the booing.

    Now compare this to the booing England received after the USA game, that can categorized as uncalled for criticism and what jan mentioned of fan expectations

    Hope I’m making sense here.

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