Christian Pulisic says he will do everything in his power to be fit for the United States' World Cup round-of-16 showdown with the Netherlands on Saturday.

Pulisic suffered a pelvic injury when scoring the winning goal in the USA's victory over Iran on Tuesday.

The Chelsea forward was substituted at half-time, but hopes to recover in time to take on the Oranje at Khalifa International Stadium this weekend.

A USA team spokesman said of Pulisic's pelvic contusion injury during a press conference on Thursday "it's what it sounds like," but the former captain stated: "No, but at the same time, it's not.

"Like, I didn't get, like, hit in the balls."

He added: "It was very painful. You know, that bone is there for a reason, to protect you, I think. And I hit it well. And it was sore, but like I said, I'm getting better."

Pulisic continued: "I took a knee ... to a nice pelvis area - it was not nice."

The former Borussia Dortmund man is determined to play his part when the USA go in search of a quarter-final place.

"I'm gonna go meet now with the team and the medical staff, and make a decision on [training] today," added Pulisic.

"Just kinda see how I'm feeling, taking it day by day right now. But doing everything in my power to be able to be out there on the field Saturday.

"I will do everything in my power to work with this medical team and make sure that I can play."

Louis van Gaal was heartened by Memphis Depay's display on his first start at the World Cup as he had a hand in both goals in a 2-0 Netherlands win over Qatar.

Depay is the Oranje's star man but had been restricted to the role of substitute in their first two matches following a hamstring injury.

But the Barcelona forward was called in from the start as the Netherlands needed three points to be sure of top spot in Group A.

Although Depay did not score, he was involved in the build-up to Cody Gakpo's opener and then had the shot that led to Frenkie de Jong converting a rebound for the second.

Coach Van Gaal was "so pleased" to have taken a risk by including Depay, Marten de Roon and Matthijs de Ligt, who had all been dealing with fitness concerns.

"The difference is Memphis is playing," he said. "He was involved in those two goals. That is the big difference.

"We have to bring Memphis into the game gradually, because he hasn't played in about two months."

Meanwhile, Van Gaal described Gakpo, who has three goals in three games, as having "everything it takes to become a star".

Van Gaal was certainly more impressed by his two forwards than he was by a question suggesting the Netherlands had underwhelmed.

"I think you have a different perspective on football than I," responded Van Gaal.

"Why don't you write down that it's terribly boring and you're going home tomorrow because you couldn't care less?"

When it was put to the coach that many fans concurred, he replied: "That's disappointing, but I don't agree. I think everyone would be rather proud that we're progressing to the next round."

Davy Klaassen, for his part, had accepted it was a fair assessment.

"If you play against Qatar, everyone will expect you'll win 5-0 or more," Klaassen said. "This tournament has shown it's very difficult.

"It's not like 10 years ago when you have the results you used to have. No country so far has shown these results in the group stage."

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez gave no assurances around his future but bristled at mention of his side's performance being the worst statistically of any host nation in World Cup history.

No other home side have lost as many as three matches or conceded as many as seven group-stage goals.

"We're talking about statistics. We're a country with 6,000 football licences, so this was a likely situation," Sanchez said.

"We never thought at any time to set a goal of reaching the last 16 or the quarter-finals. The goal was to get here, compete and see what we could do. Now we've seen.

"We managed to play two good games against the Netherlands and Senegal, knowing what tough opponents they are. We know in our first game we weren't at our usual level and didn't compete that well.

"We're very realistic about what we can do, where we're heading, what is expected of us.

"You can use statistics as you please, but we have to make our own assessment. That's what really matters to us."

Cody Gakpo scored in a third consecutive World Cup match as the Netherlands eased into the knockout stage by beating Qatar 2-0 to top Group A.

PSV attacker Gakpo has been one of the breakout stars of the tournament and impressed again at Al Bayt Stadium, setting the Oranje on their way to victory with a clinical 26th-minute strike.

As Senegal defeated Ecuador elsewhere, a further goal from Frenkie de Jong made sure of a straightforward victory to clinch first place in the pool.

Gakpo likely would not have had such a prominent role thus far if not for Memphis Depay's hamstring injury, but the pair started together on Tuesday and will now aim to link up again in the last 16 against the Group B runners-up.

The Netherlands immediately looked more threatening for having Depay in the line-up, although he failed to get a shot away in an early scramble in the box, leading Daley Blind to aim tamely at Meshaal Barsham, and soon lashed over.

It was Gakpo who instead delivered the goods once more following a lovely move, laying the ball off to Davy Klaassen and taking the return to fire a firm finish into the bottom-right corner.

Dreadful defending from Qatar then allowed Louis van Gaal's men to double their lead four minutes into the second half as Barsham blocked from Depay but De Jong was able to beat two men to the rebound in front of the goal line.

A third for Steven Berghuis was ruled out for a handball by Gakpo in the build-up, with the substitute also hitting the bar in stoppage time, but events in the other match meant the Netherlands' position was never under threat.

What does it mean? Oranje go on the offensive

The Netherlands had attempted only 12 shots worth a combined 0.8 expected goals across their first two matches, outperforming only Costa Rica in each metric.

Qatar made for accommodating opponents on Tuesday, but Depay's return alongside Gakpo led to a far more dangerous display. The Oranje produced 12 attempts worth 1.6 xG in this game alone.

Another crucial Gakpo goal

Any Netherlands nerves were eased by another opening goal from Gakpo, who had broken the deadlock against both Senegal and Ecuador.

He is the fourth Oranje player to net in three straight World Cup appearances and only the second player from any nation to open the scoring three times in the same group stage at a finals, along with Italy's Alessandro Altobelli in the first round in 1986.

Unwanted records for hosts

In conceding seven goals and losing three matches, Qatar set new records for hosts at a World Cup finals. This was not the sort of history they set out to make 10 days ago.

What's next?

The Netherlands will learn the identity of their last-16 opponents later on Tuesday, as Qatar reflect on a gruelling first World Cup experience.

The Netherlands have been officially confirmed as hosts for the 2023 Nations League Finals.

The Oranje were widely expected to welcome their rivals to face them on home soil, as only them and Group A4 opponents Belgium, Poland and Wales expressed an interest in staging the knockout finale.

Having seen off the trio to qualify as group winners, the Netherlands will now welcome Croatia, Italy and Spain next year for the climax to the 2022-23 edition.

In the absence of the Johan Cruyff Arena and Philips Stadion due to concerts, the matches will be played instead at Feyenoord's De Kuip and De Grolsch Veste - the home of FC Twente.

The tournament commences with the semi-finals on June 14 and June 15, while the final and third-place play-off will take place on June 18.

The draw to determine the last-four pairings will be made at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon next January.

Memphis Depay was named in the Netherlands starting XI for the first time at the 2022 World Cup ahead of their final Group A match against Qatar.

The Barcelona forward was battling a hamstring injury heading into the tournament and was initially ruled out of the opener against Senegal, only to appear from the bench in a 2-0 win.

Depay was a substitute again as Louis van Gaal's side drew with Ecuador, and the coach insisted ahead of the meeting with hosts Qatar he would be taking no risks.

However, he said: "We're going to do anything and everything to progress to the next match."

That has led to a recall for talisman Depay – a member of Van Gaal's 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil – who lines up alongside breakout star Cody Gakpo in attack.

Gakpo was a chief beneficiary of Depay's absence, trusted to be the Netherlands' creative force behind a front two of Steven Bergwijn and Vincent Janssen.

The PSV attacker, linked with Manchester United, was moved into the front line against Ecuador and now keeps his place there, linking up with Depay.

Gakpo has scored two of the Oranje's three goals so far.

The Netherlands will be through with a win or a draw and would advance regardless if Ecuador defeated Senegal.

This was not the way Qatar will have wanted their home tournament to go.

With almost 12 years to prepare, the Maroons tried to put themselves in a position to be an inspirational underdog at their World Cup.

That has not proven to be the case, with defeats against Ecuador and Senegal seeing them become the first host nation ever to be eliminated after two games.

Qatar still have one more to go, though, and arguably the most glamorous one as they prepare to take on the Netherlands in their final outing.

Felix Sanchez's men will not just want to claim a morale-boosting big scalp to go out on a high, but will also be keen to avoid defeat as no host nation have ever lost as many as three matches at a World Cup.

The Netherlands topped the group after matchday two, but only just, after a fairly uninspiring 1-1 draw against Ecuador that kept them above La Tri on goal difference, and a point ahead of third-placed Senegal.

Louis van Gaal's side will go through if they avoid defeat on Tuesday, and have history on their side as only in 1978 (v Scotland) have the Netherlands lost their final group match at the World Cup (excluding second group phases), winning four and drawing three.

 

The experienced coach has acknowledged his team are yet to get going in Qatar, saying on Friday: "If we want to become world champions, we need to improve a lot, because the quality of the opponents we have yet to face is at a much higher level."

A 2-0 win against Senegal in their opener felt somewhat fortunate, while they had to rely on the woodwork to prevent Ecuador from coming back from a goal down to beat them.

While Qatar are not one of those higher-quality opponents Van Gaal will have been referring to, the Dutch will need to ensure they are on their game at Al Bayt Stadium.

Speaking after defeat to Senegal on Friday, Sanchez said: "We intend to be competitive [against the Netherlands]. We cannot miss a chance like this to play against the Netherlands, so our plan, the goal is to play a good game."

They could gain hope from the fact that the host country have won their final group match in five of the last six World Cups (including both Japan and South Korea as joint-hosts in 2002), with Russia losing 3-0 to Uruguay in 2018 in the other.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands – Cody Gakpo

The Dutch have struggled to create so far, having just four shots on target across their first two games, though three of those have ended up in the net. Since 1966, the fewest total shots on target from the Netherlands in a group stage at the World Cup is 10 in 1990.

Gakpo has been a shining light, though, having been directly involved in at least one goal in his last five appearances for the Netherlands in all competitions (four goals, one assist). For club and country in all competitions this season, Gakpo has been involved in 34 goals in 28 appearances, scoring 16 goals and assisting a further 18.

The 23-year-old has put his country 1-0 up in both games in Qatar so far, and only three players have ever scored in three consecutive World Cup appearances for the Dutch; Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010).

Qatar – Boualem Khoukhi

While they will want to put on a show for their fans as they bow out of the tournament, Qatar will surely spend the majority of the game defending.

Khoukhi put in some shift to try and keep Senegal out, even if it ended up in vain, with his nine clearances being seven more than any other Qatari player, while he also had more touches (83) and passes attempted (64) than any of his team-mates.

Qatar have conceded five goals so far, with no host nation ever conceding more in a single group stage, with South Africa also conceding five in 2010.

PREDICTION

According to Stats Perform's prediction model, this will be a straightforward win for the Netherlands, having been given an 82.9 per cent chance of taking all three points.

The supercomputer has assigned an 11.5 per cent chance of a draw, while what would be a famous victory for Qatar has just a 5.6 per cent chance of happening.

Louis van Gaal does not believe he has placed added pressure on his Netherlands squad by targeting World Cup glory, instead suggesting the players are on board with his ambitious aims.

Van Gaal talked up Oranje's chances right from the start of this tournament and has continued to do so, even if their performances in beating Senegal and drawing with Ecuador have not been entirely convincing.

The Netherlands still have work to do in their third match against Qatar to book a last-16 place, but the coach does not regret being so open with his goals for the finals.

"I hope this is no pressure at all, because I think you always have to identify the goal, the purpose for which you are here," he said. "Then you can work towards that purpose.

"If you don't identify that purpose and say the quarter-finals is enough, that is not the right way to do things. The right thing is to say you want to become champions.

"I set out the reasons why we can become champions. I didn't say we would become champions, but we can. The players believe in that."

That belief is evident in Frenkie de Jong, appearing alongside Van Gaal on Monday, as he said: "I think we have an excellent squad. We have demonstrated that on more than enough occasions.

"We are 17 matches unbeaten, that is telling. We have four points, and we played two excellent opponents. We're well positioned despite the fact the last match we didn't play as well as we could.

"We talked a lot in the squad about what we want to do, what we want to improve. Everyone is full of confidence, so it's up to us to show you."

Van Gaal plans to stay up to date with the score from the other game in Group A on Tuesday – the Netherlands will advance even with a defeat if Senegal also lose – but he is not overly concerned whether his side top the pool and secure a supposedly easier draw.

"If you want to become a world champion, you will have to be capable of beating everyone," he said. "Particularly those countries you don't suspect will progress very far, they are progressing or making it difficult."

The Netherlands will also need their key players fit and firing if they are to go all the way.

Van Gaal is "not surprised at all" by Cody Gakpo's form at the finals, believing he can "evolve even further, much further", but he knows Memphis Depay can be decisive.

"To become world champion, we need Memphis," said Van Gaal. "That's how I see it."

Depay has not started yet as he works his way back from injury, but the coach added: "We're going to do anything and everything to progress to the next match. We're still in the group stage, but in the knockout stage every match is important."

If Van Gaal is able to guide the Netherlands to glory, could he yet stay on as coach into 2023?

The coach himself pointed out that would be unlikely, given Ronald Koeman has been appointed as his successor, but he added: "If we become world champion, then the football world is a very opportunistic world. You never know."

Cody Gakpo says "anything is possible" with his future at PSV after impressing for the Netherlands at the World Cup.

The 23-year-old has scored in his country's opening two matches – a 2-0 win over Senegal followed by a 1-1 draw with Ecuador – leaving Oranje top of Group A with a game to go.

He recently revealed he was disappointed to have missed out on a move to Manchester United, while Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have since been linked.

While Gakpo's immediate focus is on helping the Netherlands advance deep into the World Cup, he is not ruling out a move away from PSV when the January window opens.

"Right now I'm busy with the Dutch team. I'll see what happens in the winter. In football, anything is possible," he said at a press conference on Sunday.

"I don't get shy about the rumours. But it's a team sport, it's not about one person. I prefer it to be about the team. 

"It's nice things that people write, but I'm not too concerned with that. I'm focused now on the World Cup. I just focus here and do my best."

 

Gakpo has been directly involved in 34 goals in 28 games for PSV and the Netherlands this season, scoring 16 and assisting a further eight.

Despite enjoying his best campaign to date, the forward – into his fifth season as a first-team regular for PSV – insists there is still more to come.

"I know what I'm capable of but it's always a challenge to reach your highest level," he said. "I'm not there yet; I can improve in a lot of things.

"I know I scored two goals this World Cup. But that's not the focus right now. I can improve, I want to help the team. It's about being the best team in the end."

Gakpo could become the fourth man to score in three straight World Cup games for Oranje after Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010).

The Netherlands will advance to the last 16 if they avoid defeat against host nation Qatar on Tuesday, while a loss may also see them through if Ecuador beat Senegal.

They have won all four of their World Cup matches against Asian sides, scoring 11 goals and conceding just once.

PSV's Cody Gakpo has become one of the early breakout stars at the World Cup, and will reportedly be courted by some of the world's biggest clubs in January.

Gakpo, 23, has spent his entire career with PSV after arriving at their youth academy back in 2007, and has risen through the ranks to become one of the Netherlands' top attacking options.

He has racked up nine goals and 12 assists in his side's first 14 Eredivisie fixtures, and has started his World Cup campaign with goals in each of the first two group stage matches against Senegal and Ecuador.

Having been linked to Leeds United before the season, he reportedly opted to remain with PSV to secure a move to an even bigger club – and now Champions League teams are said to be calling.


TOP STORY – EUROPEAN POWERHOUSES SET SIGHTS ON GAKPO

According to Dutch journalist Marco Timmer, the clubs who will make an attempt to sign the Dutch talent include Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

Having previously said he would be happy to remain in the Netherlands until the end of the season before exploring a move to the Premier League, Gakpo's value is said to have soared past the £50million mark.

There were reports early in the season that PSV's financial situation would force them to accept any further bids around £30m, so if a team with deep pockets comes with a serious offer in January, it will likely be hard to turn down.
 

ROUND-UP

– According to Fichajes, United have added 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby to their list of forward targets. 

– 90min is reporting Milan are considering another bid for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech in January after testing the waters in the previous transfer window.

Memphis Depay could return to former club United in January as Barcelona are considering terminating the 28-year-old's contract to get him off their books.

– According to Sky Sports Germany, United are not considered a realistic destination for Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham.

– CBS is reporting multiple Premier League clubs, including Everton, Leeds and West Ham, are interested in 26-year-old Senegal forward Boulaye Dia, with the Villarreal-contracted player scoring against Qatar on Friday.

Netherlands World Cup captain Virgil van Dijk hit back in the face of stiff criticism from Dutch great Marco van Basten, retorting: "I don't think he's ever positive."

A World Cup draw against Ecuador on Friday was not a result the Netherlands were looking for, with the 1-1 outcome meaning Louis van Gaal's team missed a chance to nail down a last-16 place with a game to spare.

Late goals earned them victory over Senegal on matchday one, and the Dutch should have no trouble in beating hosts Qatar next Tuesday to make sure of a spot in the knock-out rounds.

But letting Cody Gakpo's sixth-minute opener against Ecuador be cancelled out by Enner Valencia's leveller early in the second half left former striker Van Basten unimpressed, particularly with the Oranje skipper.

Euro 88 hero Van Basten told Dutch broadcaster NOS: "You go in front very quickly. And then I think a thought arises: okay, we are ahead, we have to defend. But that is something that does not help us. I think Virgil should play the leading role in that. He talks a lot, but says nothing.

"Who's the best player on the team? That's Virgil. When you see what he does in possession... It's just tapping a ball to the players next to him. He needs to pick up the pace. It just goes way too slow."

Reacting to the remarks, Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk told Voetbal International: "I don't think he is ever positive, so what do you do with it?

"It is easy to make an analysis from [NOS headquarters in] Hilversum. I don't want to say that I played a fantastic game, not at all. But the things that are said about me failing as a captain: what do you do with that?

"I'm always at the front, I lead the team in the best way possible."

Van Dijk made more defensive clearances (6) than anyone else in Friday's game. He was kept busy as Ecuador had 15 shots to the Netherlands' paltry two, the Dutch team's lowest total at a World Cup since at least 1966, the first tournament for which such data is available.

Louis van Gaal believes the Netherlands must improve considerably if they are to win the World Cup, acknowledging Ecuador were "much better" than the Oranje in Friday's 1-1 draw.

The Netherlands and Ecuador sit locked together on four points in Group A after Enner Valencia cancelled out Cody Gakpo's opener at the Khalifa International Stadium, with the stalemate condemning hosts Qatar to an early exit.

Van Gaal's side were fortunate to hold off a much-improved Ecuador team after Valencia's equaliser, having scored with the only shot they mustered before the interval.

The Netherlands will only need a draw against bottom side Qatar to claim their place in the last 16 on Tuesday, but Van Gaal believes they must do better with sterner tests to come.

"If you want to become world champions, we need to improve a lot, because the quality of the opponents we have yet to face is at a much higher level," Van Gaal said.

The Netherlands failed to win a World Cup match after opening the scoring for the first time since 1998 (v Mexico), as Ecuador managed 15 shots to their opponents' two – the lowest tally recorded by a European team at the tournament since such data became available in 1966.

However, the Oranje are now unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group-stage games (W11 D4), and Van Gaal was relieved by the end of Friday to avoid defeat against impressive opponents.

"I think we did not play a good match," Van Gaal said. "We didn't play well in ball possession, that was our problem in the first match [a 2-0 win over Senegal].

"All the second balls, all the duels were for Ecuador. There you cannot win, I believe.

"We're working on possession, and we will continue to work on that. Whether we will make it, I can't guarantee that. But I think we have several options in the midfield and I can try them out.

"We have lost sight of the balance here, but we can find it. The clever thing today is that we played the match and have one point against a much better opponent, that's how I see it."

Having led the Netherlands to a third-placed finish at the 2014 World Cup during the second of his three spells with the team, Van Gaal has now avoided defeat in all nine of his games at the finals, excluding penalty shoot-outs.

No coach has taken charge of more matches without losing in the tournament's history, with two-time winner Vittorio Pozzo also remaining unbeaten across nine contests.

The Netherlands missed the chance to become the first team at the World Cup to cement a last-16 place as Ecuador's Enner Valencia cancelled out Cody Gakpo's sublime strike in Friday's 1-1 draw. 

As in Monday's win over Senegal, Louis van Gaal's team were far from their fluid best, though they still took an early lead when in-demand forward Gakpo rifled in from 20 yards.

However, Ecuador were lively throughout and were good value for their leveller, which made Valencia just the fourth player in World Cup history to score six consecutive goals for a nation at the tournament, though the striker was forced off injured just before the end of the contest.

That could impact his hopes of landing the Golden Boot, but Valencia's strike kept Ecuador and the Oranje locked together on four points in Group A, and condemned hosts Qatar to an early exit after their 3-1 defeat to Senegal.

The Netherlands needed just six minutes to take the lead, and they did so in spectacular fashion as Gakpo latched onto Davy Klaassen's flick-on before hammering into the top-left corner.

Ecuador offered a positive response to that setback, however, forcing Virgil van Dijk into two last-ditch interventions before Valencia tested Andries Noppert from range.

La Tri thought they had found a leveller on the stroke of half-time, but Pervis Estupinan's instinctive finish was chalked off after the offside Jackson Porozo was ruled to have blocked Noppert's view.

Ecuador were not to be denied again within four minutes of the restart though, as Valencia pounced to tap home the rebound when Noppert saved Estupinan's effort.

Gustavo Alfaro's side almost capped an encouraging display with a second when Gonzalo Plata rattled the crossbar with a fine left-footed effort.

However, Ecuador's mood was dampened by a significant blow in the closing exchanges as Valencia was carried off on a stretcher after going down clutching his knee.

Ecuador believe they can hurt the Netherlands as they look to take a huge step towards the knockout rounds by springing another World Cup surprise.

The South American side cruised to victory over hosts Qatar in the tournament opener last Sunday.

A double from Enner Valencia secured a 2-0 win, giving Ecuador the chance to triumph in their opening two matches of a World Cup for the first time since 2006.

Yet their record against European nations suggests that will be a difficult challenge.

Indeed, Ecuador are winless in their last four World Cup games against European sides (D1 L3), scoring just once across those four matches.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last eight World Cup matches against South American sides (W5 D3), since a 3-2 defeat to Brazil in the quarter-finals in 1994, though that run includes a penalty shoot-out loss to Argentina in the 2014 semi-finals.

But, after seeing Argentina stunned by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Ecuador goalkeeper Hernan Galindez is hopeful Ecuador can throw the form book out the window and take control of Group A.

"I think that Argentina's defeat will not be the last surprise of this World Cup," said Galindez.

"Despite the victory of the Netherlands, they were evenly matched against Senegal. There are certainly ways to hurt the Netherlands.

"It will be a tough match, but I expect the Netherlands to approach us with respect."

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk agreed with Galindez's assessment of the Oranje's performance in a 2-0 win over Senegal, in which he saw plenty of room for improvement.

"Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal's counter-attacks," he told NOS.

"That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at.

"But I am optimistic because I feel we are going to get better."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands - Cody Gakpo

PSV star Gakpo is the subject of speculation linking him with a move to the Premier League and his goalscoring start to the tournament will only have increased his admirers.

He has been involved in four goals in his last four games for the Netherlands in all competitions (3 goals, 1 assist), twice as many as in his first six appearances for the national side (1 goal, 1 assist).

Ecuador - Pervis Estupinan

Arguably Ecuador's best creative outlet will come from defence. Left-back Estupinan created the most chances (22) in CONMEBOL qualifying and played more passes into the final third (19) than any other player in their dominant opening win over Qatar.

PREDICTION

These two teams have never met in competitive action, the Oranje winning one of their two previous friendlies, and Stats Perform's supercomputer anticipates the Netherlands will be able to begin to start thinking about the knockouts with victory in this one. 

Van Gaal's men are given a 54.1 per cent chance of prevailing compared to 20.8 for Ecuador and 25.1 per cent for the draw. 

The Netherlands might not have the standout stars they had at the 2014 World Cup, but Louis van Gaal thinks the overall quality of his squad in Qatar is better.

Van Gaal, who was in typically good humour as he previewed the Netherlands' game against Ecuador, led the Dutch to the semi-finals eight years ago.

Memphis Depay, Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij are the only players who featured in Van Gaal's squad in 2014, with the rest of the Oranje's selection in Qatar being World Cup debutants.

Although their squad lacks the leading lights of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben that Van Gaal had at his disposal in Brazil, the Netherlands coach thinks his squad of 2022 has more to offer across the board.

With Germany and Argentina losing their first matches, there is the possibility of the draw opening up, and Van Gaal sees no reason why his team cannot capitalise.

"I didn't see all the matches, but the fact that Germany and Argentina lost is somewhat telling, but I always say it's easier to defend than it is attack," he said in a press conference.

"I heard that Germany missed a lot of chances and then they lose. This has got to do with team discipline. This is why I say this group is great.

"They're the ones who have to put it into practice, execute my instructions for 90 minutes. If they don't perform as well, you put in the next player who will do his utmost.

"We have an average quality higher than 2014. I'm not talking about the top players we had at the time, perhaps Memphis is at that level and might reach that level, and Frenkie de Jong perhaps.

"But then the matches were decided by players like Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder. That's just the way it was.

"Now in our squad we have a much higher average. Forwards like Memphis, [Steven] Bergwijn, [Cody] Gakpo. I hope that will be a pleasant surprise."

Depay only featured as a substitute against Senegal on Monday, with the Barcelona forward recovering from an injury and lack of game time at club level.

Van Gaal is unsure if the 28-year-old will be fit to start against Ecuador.

"With Memphis, he was training in Amsterdam and that was individual," he added. "Now he needs to train with the team.

"We've increased intensity, he's played 30 minutes now. He isn't grappling too much with the issues. We're proceeding with the next step, which is 45 minutes.

"We're trying to extend that, because the injury he has makes it so difficult to decide when he can start.

"He's quite an extraordinary player, so I've set aside my principles because I consider him incredibly important."

With Gakpo and Davy Klaassen scoring in the win over Senegal, the Netherlands had two different players score in their first World Cup appearance for the first time since Wim Jonk and Gaston Taument did so against Saudi Arabia in 1994.

Depay is the only player to score in both of his first two World Cup games for the Netherlands, though Van Gaal feels PSV forward Gakpo, who is enjoying a fine season, has what it takes to become a superstar.

"He is a player with a lot of talent and potential, but he is young, and he's a player that's still developing, he has a lot of room for improvement," Van Gaal said.

"He's a personality to do whatever it takes. It is possible that he can become a star."

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk has hit back at accusations that not wearing OneLove at the World Cup showed a lack of "backbone".

It was confirmed on Monday that skippers of the Oranje, England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland would not don the armband in Qatar.

That came after FIFA threatened to book captains if they broke regulations and made their own statements on social issues, rather than following guidelines from the game’s governing body.

OneLove, which promotes "inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind", has grown in significance in the build-up to the tournament in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

The European nations were critcised for not going through with their pledge to wear the armbands, but Van Dijk believes it is unfair to be accused of being spineless after the Oranje started the tournament with a 2-0 win over Senegal.

He told Dutch broadcaster NOS: "I play in a position where a yellow card is not useful. I became a football player and I want to play these kind of tournaments.

"There are people who say we don't have a backbone, but that's not how it works.

"We just want to play football. I would have loved to play with that band, but not at the expense of a yellow card."

It has been reported that captains could have faced a one-match ban if they had worn the OneLove armband.

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