Louis van Gaal is the quintessential tactician. The Netherlands coach is a deep analyser. He is a painstaking plot-maker.
The 62-year-old’s stratagem faces an acid test in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. Providing it will be a team that has won all five of its matches at this FIFA World Cup™, and a player that has an incomparable knack of unravelling himself from the strictest of handcuffs.
FIFA caught up with Van Gaal to discuss stopping Lionel Messi, his view of Argentina and belief that the Netherlands can lift the Trophy at Brazil 2014.
FIFA: Louis, do you think stopping Messi is key to the Netherlands’ hopes?
Louis van Gaal: I'm not thinking about individual players, I'm thinking always that we have to play against a team, but Messi is a very important player. But we also have very important players in our team: Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder. They have never won the [FIFA Ballon d’Or], but they are very good players who can decide a game, like Messi. So we have to play against Argentina and we have to try to stop Messi getting the ball, passing the ball, scoring goals, and you do that as a team. I hope my team can do the job.
How would you describe Argentina as a whole, as a team?
As a very good, organised team. They are playing very organised [football] when the opponent has the ball, and when they have the ball I think the tactics are adapted to the quality of Messi. And they have not only Messi but also prolific players like Aguero, Di Maria, Lavezzi, Palacio, so they are a very dangerous team. And when they are ahead they close the door for every opponent, so it's better that we score the first goal.
You always analyse each opponent thoroughly. What have you got planned for Argentina?
I always think about the players on the bench, the quality of our opponents. I am thinking about all of this, but I cannot reveal [my analysis].
Do you think the Netherlands can go all the way in this tournament?
Yes, I think so. We got through the group stage against Spain, the world champions, unbeatable for two years; against Australia – we had never beaten Australia before; and we beat the runners-up, Chile. They are all very good sides, so that has given the team a boost, confidence to the players. We are very difficult to beat. That's down to our organisation and also the belief and confidence that we have, that we have to battle for every victory.
Finally, what kind of match do you expect against Argentina?
I think it will be a balanced game. Perhaps the luckiest team will win.