DOHA, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Coach Louis van Gaal may divide Dutch opinion with his tactics, but putting their faith in him has paid off once again for the Netherlands as a 3-1 win over the United States sent them into their seventh World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
Prior to their last 16 clash with the Americans, the Dutch team put out a video featuring Van Gaal's face on a dollar bill emblazoned with the words "In Louis we trust". Again he proved himself to be value for money.
After a ponderous opening, the Dutch took the lead in the 10th minute with an electrifying Memphis Depay goal that could have been scored by his free-flowing 1995 Champions League-winning Ajax side.
It was the first goal the United States conceded from open play in Qatar and Daley Blind added a superb second with a first-time strike just before the break.
But in between, and for most of the second half, the Dutch played the kind of risk-free, pragmatic possession football that has become Van Gaal's signum in the latter part of his career.
While it will not win him any friends, it certainly wins him football matches.
News conferences with the combative 71-year-old in Qatar have consisted of Dutch journalists criticising him, and Van Gaal telling them he doesn't care. On Saturday he again let the result rather than the performance do the talking.
"I think I've been very clear on the media, the media have a different opinion to me and I don't want to annoy them any more," he told a news conference on Friday when asked about his pragmatism ahead of the knockout stage.
From early on, the Oranje did everything they could to drag the tempo of the game down, frustrating their young opponents while conserving their energy for what is to come, but keen to strike on the break when offered the chance.
The United States approached the game in the same manner as the organisers approached the rendition of their national anthem at the Khalifa International Stadium - spirited and somewhat rushed for the most part, before slowing inexplicably when it should have been reaching a crescendo.
Their three-man attack hung on the shoulders of the backline, aggressively looking for passes in behind. But with Davy Klaasen roaming the midfield, the Dutch defensive dam would not be breached.
Two goals later, the Americans were left looking ragged and disorganised, and it took a litany of errors in his own half from a tiring Memphis Depay to create the chaos from which they reduced the deficit through Haji Wright in the 76th minute.
That brought the red, white and blue fans to their feet again as chants of "USA! USA!" rang around the arena. But five minutes later Denzel Dumfries volleyed home to kill off their exuberance once and for all.
Van Gaal's gospel of playing just about good enough to get through may rankle with many Dutch fans, but his team seems to have bought into it.
"Yeah it was better, but we're critical. I think everyone in the Netherlands is critical because we can also really play football, and we want to show that," captain Virgil van Dijk said.
"We did show it pretty often I think, but we're in the quarter-final," he added.
For the Americans, who co-host the World Cup in four years' time, it will be a valuable lesson that pace and energy alone are not enough once the knockout phase starts.
For Van Gaal, it was a vindication of his current approach, where total football is all well and good, but winning is the only goal that matters.
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