Virgil van Dijk speaks out on facing Lionel Messi in World Cup quarter-final

Virgil van Dijk of Holland during a training session of the Dutch national team at the Qatar University training complex on December 4, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. 

Virgil van Dijk has insisted that the 2022 World Cup quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina won’t be decided by the personal battle between himself and Lionel Messi.

The two nations meet on Friday in Qatar, both aiming to reach the semi-final stage for the first time since 2014.

In what will be one of the most intriguing battles of the tournament so far, Holland captain Van Dijk, arguably the best centre-back in the game right now, will come up against Argentina skipper Messi, perhaps the greatest forward of all-time.

For many, that will be where the game is won or lost, but Van Dijk disagrees, repeatedly telling reporters that his side have not been focusing on just stopping Messi in training.

‘He’s one of the best players of all time, obviously. He has done it for so many years,’ the Liverpool defender said of the PSG talisman.

‘I would say he and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the standout players of the last two decades. There is only respect towards what they have achieved but, for us now, it is not a case of preparing just to face him.

‘We are preparing to beat Argentina. Obviously we know how big a part of their success he has been over the years but it’s not about me, or the Netherlands, against Messi, it’s about the Netherlands against Argentina.

‘[We’re not] worried no, but cautious of what Argentina can bring to the game. They are a fantastic team with fantastic players, and we are going to have to do well in all departments of the match.

‘We also feel that our play in the last game [against the USA] could have been better. We are all perfectionists and could like to have performed better. But what is nice is that we are still in the competition and playing in the quarter-finals.’

The two sides have met at the World Cup finals five times before, most notably at the 1978 final when Argentina triumphed 3-1.

Their last encounter was at the 2014 semi-final when Messi’s side prevailed on penalties after a goalless draw, and Van Dijk says his team have been preparing for the possibility of another shootout.

‘It doesn’t guarantee in a game, where you play in a full stadium with 80,000 people and there is a semi-final at stake that everything will go the same, but we try to do as much as possible in order to be ready for it,’ the 31-year-old added.

‘Hopefully we won’t come to that stage and we can decide the game before getting to extra time or penalties, but if the time comes we have to be ready for it. We have practised as much as possible.’

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