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World Cup draw has suddenly gotten interesting for US

They’re going Dutch.

After the agita of two tournament-opening draws and the thrill of a tense 1-0 victory over Iran om Tuesday, the United States has landed where so many pre-World Cup predictions had them — in the Round of 16 and facing the Netherlands.

Yes, the showdown Saturday between the Red, White and Blue and the Oranje is basically the chalk outcome. After that, it could get interesting.

“I always say it’s us against the world,” Tim Weah said. “Because no one believed that U.S. could play good football, and we’re just here trying to show the world. … I’m just really happy that we’re through to the next round, and it’s a beautiful day.”

This isn’t your uncle’s Netherlands team, which popularized total football, or even the edition that finished third at the 2014 World Cup under current manager Louis van Gaal — like the U.S., it did not even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and was left reeling by a Round of 16 elimination last summer at the Euros. It’s perhaps more reminiscent of the in-transition Belgium team to which the U.S. lost 2-1 in extra time in the final 16 in 2014.

Netherlands star Cody Gakpo scores a goal during their 2-0 World Cup win over host nation Qatar.
Netherlands star Cody Gakpo scores a goal during their 2-0 World Cup win over host nation Qatar.
AFP via Getty Images

The Dutch won Group A with two wins and a draw and a goal differential of 5-1, but the underlying stats do not flatter them. They were outshot 35-25 over the three games, including 11-8 in shots on target, and were credited with just 2.3 expected goals, while their opponents had a combined 2.7.

Dutch forward Cody Gakpo has been perhaps the breakout star of the tournament, scoring three highlight-reel goals accompanied by imagined cash-register sound effects — the 23-year-old will be transferred from PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands to one of Europe’s super clubs before long. The imposing Virgil van Dijk anchors the defense, and Frenkie de Jong is instrumental in the midfield.

To look ahead even further, if the Americans get past the Netherlands, they will meet either the Group C winner or the Group D runner-up in the quarterfinals on Dec. 9.

That line in the bracket was penciled in for Argentina, as a heavy favorite in Group C — but the Argentines have faltered to such an extent that they’re in danger of elimination on Wednesday and certainly may finish second in their group.

If Argentina indeed goes home unhappy or moves to the other side of the bracket as the “2C” team, the U.S. would be playing for a spot in the quarters against the likes of Poland, Denmark, Australia or even Saudi Arabia. The Americans would even be favorites in a few of those matchups.

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