Even at 35 years of age, few would bet against Lionel Messi having one last World Cup in him after the 2022 edition. Still, for most there is the assumption that even if he does play again in 2026, this year is the Argentine superstar’s last best hope.
That this year is the last best chance for the consensus best player in the history of the game to add a World Cup winner’s medal to his collection. And that means many otherwise neutral fans will be cheering for him against Virgil van Dijk and the Netherlands.
That isn’t the concern of Van Dijk or his teammates, though, who will be out to spoil the narrative when the two sides face off on Friday—though he insists that the game won’t be decided by the world’s best defender vs. the world’s best ever player.
“It’s an honour to play against Messi, but it’s not me against him,” the Liverpool centre half noted. “It’s the Netherlands vs. Argentinia One team against the other and the best team usually wins. It’s the Netherlands against Argentina and we’re here to win.”
In a World Cup that have seen many of the favourites disappoint, with Germany, Belgium, and Spain all failing to live up to pre-tournament expectations, Van Dijk and the Dutch have quietly put together a solid tournament to reach the quarter-finals.
An opening win over Senegal and a Roung of 16 defeat of the United States both spoke to a disciplined, tactically astute side with the ability to hold their shape and pick their moments in attack. Against Messi and Argentina, they will need to do that again.
“The difficult thing about him is when we are attacking, he is chilling somewhere in a corner or something,” he added. “You have to be so sharp in terms of defensive organisation. They will always look for him to try to make it difficult for us on the counter.
“It is not me against him, or the Netherlands against him, but the Netherlands against Argentina. No one can do it on his own, we will have to come up with a good plan.”