Nathan Ake admitted to a sense of relief that Manchester City finally broke their Tottenham Hotspur Stadium curse to stay on track to defend their FA Cup crown.

The holders squandered a number of chances in Friday’s fourth-round tie at Spurs before Ake poked home from close range with two minutes left.

It represented City’s first goal at Tottenham’s new home at the sixth time of asking and the centre-back conceded it felt like being another night to forget until his timely intervention.

“So happy. It was tough but we played really well over the whole game. We just had to score and it didn’t happen again for a long time. I was thinking is it going to happen but luckily we got it,” Ake said.

“I think trusting the way we played (was key). We played really well, created numerous chances and just the belief to keep going. Even though we didn’t score, just to keep going, keep trying and in the end we got it.

“I thought it is never going to come but finally we’ve done it.”

The introduction of Kevin De Bruyne proved crucial and it was his corner which created Ake’s 88th-minute winner.

De Bruyne had been left red-faced six minutes earlier when he curled wide with only Guglielmo Vicario to beat, but made amends with an exceptional set-piece delivery.

The 1-0 win made it seven victories in a row for City, who remain in the hunt for another treble after claiming Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League success last season.

Ake told ITV: “I think it was important to go through, we want to fight for every competition and this was a big step forward.”

Following a lacklustre first half, all eyes were on when De Bruyne and fit-again Spurs playmaker James Maddison would get the nod to come on.

Maddison made his first appearance since he sustained ankle ligament damage on November 6, but only touched the ball six times as Tottenham struggled to gain a foothold in the contest.

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou hoped Maddison would be better for his 17-minute cameo with games to come against Brentford and Everton next week.

“Knowing the nature of the game, he’s trained well this week-and-a-half but he’s missed a lot of football,” Postecoglou explained.

“We were hoping to get him some minutes, which he did and he should be right to go from now on, but there’s another two games next week and we need him and others to pitch in.

“So, yeah it wasn’t really much of a dilemma about whether to start him or not. I just felt that coming off the bench was going to be better for us as a team more than anything else.”

Pep Guardiola lauded an unbelievable performance from his Manchester City side after they ended their Tottenham Hotspur Stadium goal drought with a narrow 1-0 away win.

City had failed to score in their previous five trips to Spurs’ home and an FA Cup fourth-round replay looked on the cards when substitute Kevin De Bruyne inexplicably fired wide from 16 yards with eight minutes left.

The breakthrough did finally arrive for the visitors with 88 minutes on the clock when Guglielmo Vicario flapped at De Bruyne’s corner with Ruben Dias in close proximity and Nathan Ake poked home from close range to end the FA Cup holders barren run at Tottenham.

“Deserved it? I think so but football is about scoring, not conceding and the statistics were really good today,” Guardiola explained.

“If you see the stats from the past when we come here, we could not score and could not win.

“Yeah, we are really pleased of course to win against this team away, score a goal and go through. We defend the title and the way we play, we proved we defend it really well.

“Unbelievable. The performance was top, top class. These players prove again the reason why they have done what they have done in the past.”

City had the ball in the net after five minutes but Oscar Bobb was adjudged to be marginally offside after Vicario had thwarted Foden from close range.

Spurs barely had a kick in the first half and while Brennan Johnson was denied by Stefan Ortega at the start of the second period, it proved the hosts’ only shot all match.

Guardiola’s team continued to press for their maiden goal at Tottenham’s stadium and after Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne and substitute Jeremy Doku all failed to make the most of promising situations late on, Ake produced the goods with two minutes left.

It was a dangerous delivery from De Bruyne which caused panic in the Spurs box on only his third appearance since his lengthy lay-off following a serious hamstring injury sustained last season.

Asked if De Bruyne was fit enough to start, Guardiola said: “He is ready. Ready to play.

“Sooner or later he will play from the beginning, but it’s not just about that. For many reasons we want to protect him and Kevin, today I always knew he was going to create.

“These type of games at the end, it was a little bit more open and we had that feeling. It is important he feels good after his hamstring problem and he made an exceptional corner in the right spot. We knew it, so yeah it’s really good.”

Guardiola also reflected on the news on Friday morning that great rival Jurgen Klopp will leave Liverpool at the end of the season and dispelled any talk that he could follow suit.

“I am fine. Still one more year I want to do it and maybe extend (past 2025), so I am fine,” Guardiola insisted.

Meanwhile, opposite number Ange Postecoglou cut a frustrated figure after Spurs exited the FA Cup following a lacklustre display, which will all but ensure the club’s trophy drought will extend into a 17th year.

Postecoglou admitted: “We fought hard to stay in the game but to be honest that’s all we did, we stayed in the game.

“They’re a top team. They’re the benchmark. We’re not there yet and we’re under no illusion about that.

“I just felt that all of the second half was ok, the first half we were just too passive in a lot of our play and allowed them to get a rhythm.”

Nathan Ake’s 88th-minute tap-in helped Manchester City end their Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hoodoo and progress into the FA Cup fifth round after a 1-0 away victory.

Pep Guardiola’s side had failed to score in their previous five visits to Spurs’ home and that unwanted record looked set to extend until Ake bundled home from close range after Guglielmo Vicario flapped at Kevin De Bruyne’s corner.

All eyes had been on De Bruyne and Tottenham playmaker James Maddison after a lacklustre first half and while the former helped break the deadlock, it was an uncharacteristic City goal that fired them to a seventh straight win.

Ange Postecoglou’s team could have little complaints and this cup loss means the club’s trophy drought will almost certainly extend into a 17th year.

These teams had played out a 3-3 draw at the Etihad last month, but both the club’s respective top goalscorers Son Heung-min and Erling Haaland were absent while playmakers Maddison and De Bruyne had to be content with a place on the bench.

City’s notoriously poor record at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was well documented and Guardiola’s side almost broke their duck in the fifth minute when Oscar Bobb tapped home on the goal line.

Bobb pounced after Vicario had denied Phil Foden from close range, but City youngster Bobb was adjudged by VAR to be marginally offside and it remained 0-0.

The visitors continued to seek a maiden goal at this venue and after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic had efforts blocked, Guardiola let out his first sign of exasperation when Josko Gvardiol sent a cross into the stand.

Spurs had barely had a kick but were given some unexpected respite when a three-minute delay to proceedings occurred due to one of Paul Tierney’s assistant referees having an issue with his technical equipment.

When play did get back under way, normal service resumed and a succession of last-ditch defending denied City in the 41st-minute with Bobb’s left-footed strike thwarted by Pedro Porro’s block.

Foden was the next to try his luck but fired wide from Bobb’s cut back to ensure it was goalless at the break.

Micky van de Ven made a vital intervention straight after half-time when Julian Alvarez had a sight of goal before Tottenham finally caused a moment of panic for the away side.

Timo Werner sent Brennan Johnson through on goal, but City’s back-up goalkeeper Stefan Ortega was out quick to dive at the feet of the forward.

It reenergised the home crowd although Guardiola turned to his ace in the pack with 65 minutes on the clock when De Bruyne was introduced.

Postecoglou followed suit eight minutes later and Maddison earned a hero’s reception on his return, but his first involvement was to bundle Silva to the floor in the penalty area.

Referee Tierney waved away appeals before Spurs and in particular Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg received two slices of luck.

A Hojbjerg air kick allowed Silva a chance but he fired straight at Vicario before Tottenham’s Danish midfielder gave away possession to Foden.

Foden teed up De Bruyne, who inexplicably curled wide from 16 yards and when Vicario saved from Jeremy Doku moments later, a replay was on the cards.

Ake had other ideas and when Vicario flapped at De Bruyne’s corner, the City defender was on hand to poke home and send the holders through to the last 16.

Fulham manager Marco Silva claims it should have been “impossible” to allow Manchester City’s controversial second goal to stand in his side’s 5-1 loss to the champions.

The Cottagers had been holding their own against the treble winners at the Etihad Stadium when City went 2-1 ahead on the stroke of half-time with a Nathan Ake header.

Fulham argued long and hard that City defender Manuel Akanji, stood in an offside position, had played at the ball and impacted goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

Despite a VAR review and further lengthy protests, the goal was given and City went on to win comfortably with a second-half hat-trick from the prolific Erling Haaland.

Silva said: “The second half was not at the level that it should be. I tried to tell the players not to lose focus from things that we cannot control but, of course, that moment made a huge impact on them.

“Even all the explanations that we listened to during that period didn’t make sense at all.

“What I can say? Everyone that plays football, everyone that has played football, everyone that has some knowledge about football – I’m 100 per cent sure – has to disallow that goal.

“Everyone has to be furious if a goal like that comes against you. For the linesman I believe that it can be difficult but, for the VAR, it is impossible not to disallow that goal. It is a clear offside.”

Silva admitted Joao Palhinha had not been in the right frame of mind to play after his proposed deadline day move to Bayern Munich collapsed.

Silva said: “It was a tough day for him, definitely, probably one of the toughest days of his life.

“He loves Fulham, he loves football, he loves to be with us. He had the fantastic season last season and he’s always a player that gives 100 per cent for the shirt but he had a big chance to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world and he was really close.

“You can imagine the impact that has on a football player when these type of things happen.”

City were not at their best in the first half and saw their opening goal from Julian Alvarez quickly cancelled out by Tim Ream.

Yet after the stormy end to the first half, they moved through the gears after the break with Haaland, scorer of 52 goals last season, coming to the fore.

Assistant boss Juanma Lillo, who has won both of his matches in charge since manager Pep Guardiola underwent back surgery, said of the Norway striker: “This guy was born scoring goals and he’ll go through his whole life scoring goals, so it’ll be no surprise if he manages to get those same figures as last time.

“But it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t as he’s great at providing play for the players. Today he made one assist and also put a ball through to another player. I’d always look at his intelligence as well as his goalscoring stats.”

City midfielder Jack Grealish missed the game with a thigh injury and is now doubtful for England’s upcoming internationals against Ukraine and Scotland.

Lillo said: “It would be difficult to be able to make it for the national team but I am not a doctor and it would be difficult for me to explain.”

Fulham manager Marco Silva claims it should have been “impossible” to allow Manchester City’s controversial second goal to stand in his side’s 5-1 loss to the champions.

The Cottagers had been holding their own against the treble winners at the Etihad Stadium when City went 2-1 ahead on the stroke of half-time with a Nathan Ake header.

Fulham argued long and hard that City defender Manuel Akanji, stood in an offside position, had played at the ball and impacted goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

Despite a VAR review and further lengthy protests, the goal was given and City went on to win comfortably with a second-half hat-trick from the prolific Erling Haaland.

Silva said: “The second half was not at the level that it should be. I tried to tell the players not to lose focus from things that we cannot control but, of course, that moment made a huge impact on them.

“Even all the explanations that we listened to during that period didn’t make sense at all.

“What I can say? Everyone that plays football, everyone that has played football, everyone that has some knowledge about football – I’m 100 per cent sure – has to disallow that goal.

“Everyone has to be furious if a goal like that comes against you. For the linesman I believe that it can be difficult but, for the VAR, it is impossible not to disallow that goal. It is a clear offside.”

Silva admitted Joao Palhinha had not been in the right frame of mind to play after his proposed deadline day move to Bayern Munich collapsed.

Silva said: “It was a tough day for him, definitely, probably one of the toughest days of his life.

“He loves Fulham, he loves football, he loves to be with us. He had the fantastic season last season and he’s always a player that gives 100 per cent for the shirt but he had a big chance to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world and he was really close.

“You can imagine the impact that has on a football player when these type of things happen.”

City were not at their best in the first half and saw their opening goal from Julian Alvarez quickly cancelled out by Tim Ream.

Yet after the stormy end to the first half, they moved through the gears after the break with Haaland, scorer of 52 goals last season, coming to the fore.

Assistant boss Juanma Lillo, who has won both of his matches in charge since manager Pep Guardiola underwent back surgery, said of the Norway striker: “This guy was born scoring goals and he’ll go through his whole life scoring goals, so it’ll be no surprise if he manages to get those same figures as last time.

“But it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t as he’s great at providing play for the players. Today he made one assist and also put a ball through to another player. I’d always look at his intelligence as well as his goalscoring stats.”

City midfielder Jack Grealish missed the game with a thigh injury and is now doubtful for England’s upcoming internationals against Ukraine and Scotland.

Lillo said: “It would be difficult to be able to make it for the national team but I am not a doctor and it would be difficult for me to explain.”

Manchester City defender Nathan Ake has extended his contract with the club to 2027, the European and Premier League champions have announced.

The Netherlands international has prolonged his previous deal by two years, committing himself to the Etihad Stadium outfit for a further four seasons.

Ake was an integral member of Pep Guardiola’s squad during City’s memorable treble-winning 2022-23 campaign, making 41 appearances in all competitions.

The 28-year-old said: “This is the best club in the world, I have no doubts about that. Being a Manchester City player makes me incredibly proud every single day.

“It’s a football club that expects excellence in every area, which makes for the perfect environment to improve. It drives me on and makes me better. I am at the stage of my career where I want to keep developing and I can definitely do that here.

“Pep is the best manager in football – a genius who has made me see the game differently – so to be able to work with him for longer is a real privilege. I am so grateful to him for everything he has done for me, both personally and professionally.”

The former Chelsea player joined City in a £41million deal from Bournemouth three years ago.

He initially had to wait for his opportunity but came of age last term, proving a reliable performer at both centre-back and left-back.

Director of football Txiki Begiristain said: “We have been delighted with Nathan’s development, so it’s great news for this football club that he is extending his time with us.

“There is no doubt he was a very important part of our treble success last season, but I believe he can be even better.”

Pep Guardiola will not entertain talk of a Manchester City treble until after they have won both the Premier League and the FA Cup, having been bemused by the suggestion they are "just 11 games" away.

City are through the semi-finals of both the FA Cup, playing Sheffield United on Saturday, and the Champions League, having eliminated Bayern Munich in the last eight this week.

As the league champions close on Arsenal at the top of the table, too, there is the potential for City to emulate rivals Manchester United's feat of 1999.

But Guardiola's side face a gruelling schedule, with the manager already complaining of fatigue following the Bayern game even before reaching a two-legged semi against Real Madrid.

For that reason, he sought to shut down the topic of the treble ahead of travelling to Wembley this weekend.

"I'm so happy you spent 10 questions before the first question about the treble," Guardiola said eight minutes into Friday's media briefing. "It was so nice.

"We will start to talk about the treble when we've won the Premier League and after we've won the FA Cup, before the final of the Champions League.

"Look how far away it is to start to talk about that."

The reporter asking the question replied: "But it's just 11 games, it's not long."

To that, a smirking Guardiola countered: "Oh, 'just', yes, 'just' 11 games. We are far away.

"I've said many times: how many times in this amazing country are trebles done? How many years? How many times? It's one. Our neighbours did it [once] in how many centuries?"

Asked if he was excited, Guardiola responded: "About the treble? Not at all."

City play Arsenal next in the Premier League on Wednesday, but their manager insisted he would not pick his team for Saturday with that game in mind.

Instead, he would be reflecting on the energy that was used in Munich, where Nathan Ake succumbed to an injury that will keep him out of this tie.

Even then, Guardiola is wary of a repeat of previous seasons, having exited the FA Cup at the semi-final stage in three straight years. In the past two, those defeats followed immediately after coming through a Champions League quarter-final.

"For Arsenal, we have four days; we have one more day than we have now," he said. "I would have loved to have played on Sunday, but I understand. United played yesterday, so that's why they have to play on Sunday.

"In the past, when I rotated the team, it was not because the next game was the FA Cup semi-final; it was just for the fatigue we had, with Atletico Madrid last season or Dortmund two seasons ago.

"It was away, after a demanding, demanding game, and that was the reason why. I have to evaluate with my backroom staff who is the best."

Ronald Koeman is targeting "as many goals as possible" in Monday's Euro 2024 qualifier against minnows Gibraltar to get his side's heavy loss to France out of their system.

The Netherlands were thumped 4-0 by Les Bleus on Friday in their opening Group B match and the first game of Koeman's second spell in charge of the national side.

Oranje have a quick turnaround in games as they welcome Gibraltar – ranked 200th in the world – to De Kuip three days after such a crushing loss, and Koeman is hoping for a big victory.

"From the first minute until the 97th we must do everything to score as many goals as possible," he said at Sunday's pre-match press conference. "We have to keep going.

"We know Gibraltar will defend with a lot of men, but hopefully we can get a quick goal. Our attacking line-up will be very important."

Koeman opted for a 4-3-3 formation against France and, while not ruling out a switch to 5-3-2 against certain sides, he has faith in the current system.

"The France game was a one-off," he said. "I have no doubt for a second that we should have done things differently in the last game. It will get better; I am convinced of that.

"It will take time before we see what we want. This is what we have training sessions for."

The Netherlands' loss to France was only their second by a four-goal margin against any opponent in the past 60 years, the other also coming against Les Bleus in August 2017.

Defender Nathan Ake, who played a full part at the Stade de France, revealed he and his team-mates spoke openly about the defeat after the match.

"We discussed what needs to be improved," he said. "We had to reflect and you also have to speak plain language and just tell each other the truth.”

Koeman added: "This group is self-critical and a number of things were said. What we discussed mainly was our build-up play and the intensity of our play – it was too slow.

"That was the biggest disappointment, particularly as we worked on it in training."

Marcus Rashford is in talks over an extension on his Manchester United contract, which currently expires in mid-2024.

Rashford has scored 22 goals in all competitions this season, including a run of 14 strikes in 16 games.

Last off-season, United triggered a one-year option to prevent him becoming a free agent in June but interest in Rashford is ramping up amid his hot form.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD PLACE £120M PRICE ON RASHFORD

Manchester United have slapped a bumper £120 million price tag on in-form forward Marcus Rashford to ward off interest, claims The Daily Star.

Rashford, who is in the form of his life, has been the subject of reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

Barcelona are also monitoring Rashford according to the report, with United are desperate to retain his services amid talk of a change of ownership at Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Bayern Munich are among the clubs lining up to sign 19-year-old Atalanta defender Giorgio Scalvini who is valued at €40m according to Football Italia.

Manchester City are set to reward Nathan Ake with a new contract offer, which represents a 50 per cent pay rise, according to the Daily Star. The Dutchman's weekly wages will rise from £80,000 to £120,000.

Juventus will rival Liverpool in trying to sign Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount in the off-season, claims CalciomercatoWeb.

– Fichajes reports Tottenham are looking to sign Real Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger after this season.

Newcastle United want to bolster their ranks by luring Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot, according to Fichajes. Rabiot's contract expires next season.

– Football Insider reports Liverpool are tracking 19-year-old Independiente defender Kevin Mantilla who impressed during the recent Under-20 South American Under-20 Championship with Colombia. The Reds have held preliminary talks with Mantilla.

Manchester City defender Nathan Ake believes Arsenal remain favourites to win the Premier League title despite his side moving top of the table on Wednesday.

Reigning champions City defeated Arsenal 3-1 at Emirates Stadium to overtake their opponents at the summit for the first time since November.

Pep Guardiola's side trailed the Gunners by eight points less than a month ago, but a return to form – coinciding with a wobble from Arsenal – has seen that margin evaporate.

While City are top by virtue of a superior goal difference, Arsenal still have a game in hand and travel to the Etihad Stadium for another blockbuster fixture in April.

Asked if City are now favourites to finish above Arsenal, Ake said: "No. They still have a game in hand so they still have three points on us. We don't want to get carried away.

"We will keep doing what we are doing, go game by game and take it from there. 

"We knew beforehand it was going to be a very big game and we just wanted to win the game and get the three points and we did."

City's victory was their 11th in a row against Arsenal in the league, with Guardiola having now won eight of his nine meetings with Mikel Arteta in all competitions.

Second-half goals from Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland earned the win for City after Bukayo Saka's penalty had cancelled out Kevin De Bruyne's opener.

City's quality ultimately told as they look to add to the four titles won in the past five seasons, success that Ake feels will stand them in good stead.

"We know there is still a long way to go. They have a game in hand but for us it is good to come to a tough place like this and get the win – that is important," the Netherlands international said.

"It's small margins. It was so tight and both teams can create something out of nothing. We still have a long way to go but we do have that [title-winning] experience."

Nathan Ake was Manchester City's unlikely hero as Pep Guardiola won his latest battle with former protege Mikel Arteta, a 1-0 FA Cup victory over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.

In a fourth-round battle between surprise Premier League leaders Arsenal and a second-placed City side who are clinging to their coat-tails in the top flight, it was defender Ake who made the difference on Friday.

He delivered the breakthrough in the 64th minute, with a sharp side-footed finish finding the bottom-right corner, out of the reach of goalkeeper Matt Turner.

The top two have still to meet in the Premier League this season, with this tie a taste of what is to come when those games take place in February and April.

Guardiola's City began strongly, but Arsenal had a big chance in the fifth minute when Takehiro Tomiyasu's powerful strike from just inside the penalty area was palmed away by Stefan Ortega.

Tomiyasu was then on hand at the other end to keep out Erling Haaland after the striker looked to loop an overhead kick past Turner, who had raced off his line to make an interception.

Arsenal's new winger Leandro Trossard was denied by a smart save from Ortega after taking on City right-back Rico Lewis and lashing a left-footed strike towards the far corner.

Kevin De Bruyne sent a curling shot from just outside the penalty area a yard wide of the left post, while City suffered an injury blow just before half-time as John Stones went off with an apparent hamstring problem.

Early in the second half, Turner reacted sharply to push away a low cross from De Bruyne that was intended to tee up Haaland for a tap-in

City introduced Julian Alvarez and Kyle Walker just before the hour mark and began to look sharper. Alvarez went close by hitting the right post, a mere 10 seconds before Ake slotted City ahead with a composed finish.

Arteta called on reinforcements, with captain Martin Odegaard among the players sent on from the Arsenal bench, but the Gunners could not force a replay.

Erling Haaland scored his 24th goal of the season and Kevin De Bruyne delivered a masterclass as Manchester City beat holders Liverpool 3-2 to reach the EFL Cup quarter-finals.

The two heavyweights served up a thriller at the Etihad Stadium in their first game after the World Cup break, and it was the Premier League champions who deservedly came out on top.

Haaland opened the scoring, only for Fabio Carvalho to equalise in the first half of a pulsating tie on Thursday.

Riyad Mahrez restored City's lead right at the start of the season half, but Mohamed Salah soon levelled with his 15th goal of the campaign.

The outstanding De Bruyne then provided a second assist of the game for Nathan Ake, and Jurgen Klopp's men were unable to respond for a third time, suffering a first defeat to City in six matches.

Liverpool had been unable to cope with City's early intensity, and Haaland netted the opener 10 minutes in, getting in front of Joe Gomez to volley De Bruyne's pinpoint cross into the bottom-left corner.

The Reds were level from out of the blue 10 minutes later, Carvalho calmly stroking into the far corner after James Milner picked him out in the penalty area.

Caoimhin Kelleher denied Ilkay Gundogan and Ake after they were brilliantly set up by De Bruyne, before Darwin Nunez twice drilled wide.

Mahrez caught Liverpool out with a great touch from Rodri's pass before firing home just over a minute into the second half, yet City's lead only lasted 79 seconds as Nunez showed great pace to get away down the left and unselfishly laid an equaliser on a plate for Salah.

Liverpool were punished for another defensive lapse just before the hour-mark, though, switching off from a short corner and allowing De Bruyne to whip in an exquisite delivery for Ake to nod in.

Nunez spurned another great chance when he shot wide of the far post after bursting clear, with City this time holding on to advance.

Virgil van Dijk was left "very hurt" after the Netherlands were knocked out of the World Cup on penalties by Argentina on Friday.

Goals from Nahuel Molina and Lionel Messi looked to have Argentina coasting to the semi-finals, but substitute Wout Weghorst scored twice late on to force the game into extra time.

Neither team could find a winner in the additional 30 minutes, but Emiliano Martinez saved from Van Dijk and then Steven Berghuis before Lautaro Martinez fired home the deciding spot-kick to knock the Netherlands out.

Van Dijk spoke of his frustration at his team pulling themselves back into the contest, only to lose on penalties.

"I'm very disappointed that we're out of the tournament, after a very eventful game," the Liverpool star told reporters.

"We showed great character, we came back last 15 minutes, got extra time then it's penalties.

"Unfortunately we couldn't get the job done. We're going home. I'm very sad about that, but that's life. We lost on penalties, and that's the thing that is difficult. It's like a lottery.

"We practiced penalties a lot but unfortunately, he [Emiliano Martinez] made two great saves and we're out.

"I think we were confident, but you can't replicate a full stadium where 80,000 fans are whistling against you and a different goalie that you don't face in training."

Netherlands captain Van Dijk took the opening penalty of the shoot-out, only to see his low effort saved by Emiliano Martinez down to the goalkeeper's right.

When asked about his spot-kick after the match, the centre-back said: "I never took it in the Premier League, so it's quite difficult. It's never easy, you're under pressure, but I was looking forward to it, I was ready for it. 

"He saved it, fair play to him. Bad for us, bad for me. I'm very sad, but unfortunately things like this happen in life and it's about how you deal with it.

"I'll be very sad for the next period and I'll regroup, be with my family, and think about good things in life.

"These things happen unfortunately, you can miss. But it doesn't mean you feel fine, I'm very hurt and I felt like I let my guys down a bit. It's about turning that feeling into hunger for the rest of the season."

Van Dijk's defensive partner Nathan Ake echoed his skipper's sentiments on the disappointing manner of the Netherlands' exit, having done so well to get back in the game.

"We can be proud. Obviously we wanted more but it wasn't to be," Ake explained. "We stayed in the game, we tried to fight back. In the end, it's painful.

"Maybe in extra time we should've pushed on a bit more, but the legs were a little bit tired."

Ake was also asked for his thoughts on an ill-tempered game that produced 15 cards, more than any other World Cup clash in history.

"That's part of football," Ake added. "They love their country, they want to fight for their country and we have the same. It's an emotional game. Everyone wants to go through.

"In the end, the penalties decided the game and not the referee."

Netherlands players shrugged off criticism about their style of play from supporters after seeing off the United States 3-1 to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

The Oranje have attracted flak from fans and media due to the brand of football and system used by Louis van Gaal, with their classic 'Total Football' approach and 4-3-3 formation discarded.

Van Gaal prefers to deploy a back three and puts an emphasis on making the Netherlands difficult to break down, aiming to hit teams on the counter-attack.

His system was reasonably effective against the USA at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday, with the Netherlands soaking up pressure and catching Gregg Berhalter's men on the break.

The Netherlands were 2-0 up at half-time, and although they came under more threatening pressure in the second half with the USA pulling one back, Denzel Dumfries – who set up the first two – capped off a strong individual performance to finish the Americans off.

Fans and media alike will still probably find reasons to criticise Van Gaal's men, but for Dumfries their performance vindicated the system.

"There's a lot of criticism because we are used to it [a certain style of play], we are good on the ball," he said. "Normally we play 4-3-3, but we play a different system [now].

"But the goals today… this is everything. I gave an assist for the other full-back, Daley Blind, and he gave an assist to me, so today we showed the quality of the system.

"In the Netherlands we are used to having the ball, playing with possession. This is a different way of playing and I also understand the criticism because we can play much better with the ball, create more chances.

"But you see when we get the ball, we have qualities on the counter, very fast strikers, and it's also a strength of ours. We have to focus now to continue to make the system work perfectly."

Nathan Ake sympathised somewhat with the Netherlands' critics, even agreeing with assessments about the Oranje perhaps failing to impress despite topping Group A.

But like Dumfries, the Manchester City defender believes the defeat of the USA showed how effective Van Gaal's system can be.

It was put to him that winning is all that matters, to which he replied: "It is, it is, but sometimes I think playing well helps getting the result.

"In the first few games we were a little lucky sometimes with how we got the goals or how we played, we could've conceded, but today I think we were much more solid defensively but also attacking wise, we created so many more chances.

"I think the first few games [the critics] were right. We didn't play our best football, but we knew from inside the camp that we got the points; played bad but got the points and qualified first.

"We knew we had to play better. I think today we showed much more [of] what we can do, play through spaces.

"Sometimes we had to defend a bit more, but we know we are very dangerous on the counter-attack and we haven't shown that in the last games. Today, we showed that."

The Netherlands will play either Argentina or Australia at Lusail on Friday in their quarter-final.

Louis van Gaal knows there is a long way to go, but declared the Netherlands can become world champions in Qatar.

Van Gaal's team progressed into the World Cup quarter-finals, where they will face either Australia or Lionel Messi's Argentina, with a 3-1 victory over the United States at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday.

Memphis Depay and Daley Blind struck in the first half, with the excellent Denzel Dumfries – who assisted the Netherlands' first two goals – sealing the win after Haji Wright had pulled one back for the USA.

Van Gaal's pragmatic approach has seen him come in for some criticism, but his team are now just two wins away from the final, and three away from lifting the trophy for the first time in their nation's history.

"I get enough appreciation from the people around me," Van Gaal said in his post-match press conference when asked if he believed he needed to win the competition to gain respect from some of his critics.

"I know the media don't always report in a positive way, it's a given in football, but some top countries didn't progress, we still have three matches to go.

"We can become world champion. I am not saying that we will, but that we can."

According to Opta, who do not count penalty shoot-out losses as defeats, Van Gaal is unbeaten in his 11 World Cup games in charge of the Netherlands, a competition record.

The Netherlands have progressed from five of their last six round-of-16 matches at the World Cup, including progressing from their last three appearances at this stage, and while he was pleased with the outcome, Van Gaal pointed to the first half as an example of where the Oranje must up their game.

"I was very critical at half-time in my analysis I share with my players as usual," he explained.

"Despite being in the lead, we suffered so much, we were dispossessed so often, it was not necessary and that's not acceptable at a World Cup, if you play top countries you cannot make it.

"In the second half they did a much better job but nevertheless we were very pleased, and gives us incredible confidence. We will evaluate the match, then roll up our sleeves and get to work again, I can't promise any more than that."

Van Gaal will leave his role at the end of the Netherlands' campaign in Qatar, and that is serving as extra motivation for the players, according to defender Nathan Ake.

Ake told reporters: "I think you could see the fight we have, the whole team is united, everyone wants to do well for him.

"He's such an iconic figure for us and the Netherlands, so for him to do his last tournament, yeah obviously that's going to cross our mind."

Goalkeeper Andries Noppert added: "He's a really special person because he tries to make everyone better, he tries to keep it as one group. This is a special gift for a coach. 

"He gives you a really special feeling that you are all together, and for the World Cup and our squad, that's really important."

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