2022 World Cup briefing: Louis van Gaal is a man of his own in Qatar | World Cup 2022

The main event

Louis van Gaal as a sentimental choice to win this World Cup feels like a flaw in the space-time continuum. And yet the stern, gruff character that launched Ajax to stardom in the 1990s and whose boring freeze-frame football had Manchester United fans flocking to the halls in the mid-2010s has transformed into the friendly uncle of world football. However, hearts have softened over his battle with cancer and the fact that at 71 this will likely be his final appearance on the world stage. He has also gone soft.

Van Gaal has also emerged as the rare voice of conscience in an elite class where principles always chase the next pound. “It’s ridiculous that the World Cup is like this [in Qatar]’ he said earlier this year. “FIFA says they want to develop football there. This is nonsense. It’s about money, it’s about commercial interests.” Notice David Beckham and others.

With Fifa set to hit record-breaking $7.5 billion in revenue and stadiums littered with empty seats as the super-city of Doha empties in the final stages of the tournament, that plain-talking speech has proven correct. While Van Gaal has recently banned political questions as they could distract his team, he continues to keep an ear to the journalists. Not for him the “We want to win” or “This is football” clichés of his contemporaries.

At Fifa’s main media center on Thursday, the big man’s press conference was sold out. The Hacks who attended his United team’s games regularly wondered why he couldn’t simply give press conferences to earn a living, so rich was the entertainment compared to the football pounding on the field. It was similar in Qatar. His Dutch team won few awards for his artistic impression and while the quarter-final game against Argentina is reminiscent of the Brilliant Orange team who faced the same opponents in 1974 and 1978, Van Gaal’s team is functional, less flying Dutchmen who tend to to use long ball .

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Argentina also brings Van Gaal against one of his former United players, Ángel Di María, with whom he had a difficult relationship. “My problem in Manchester was the coach,” said Di María last year. “Van Gaal was the worst manager I’ve ever had in my career.” On Thursday, the Dutch manager dodged the winger’s complaints before delivering one of the comedic gems the hacks lined up for.

“Well, he’s one of the very few players who’s ever said that,” he said. “And usually it’s the other way around… a head coach sometimes has to make decisions that don’t always end well. There’s someone next to me, Memphis Depay. The same happened to him. He also played for Manchester [United] And now we’re kissing mouth to mouth. We’re not doing that now.” Keyword of this roaring laughter that only a room full of journalists can produce.

Should the Netherlands prevail, they would end hopes of another sentimental pick to win this World Cup, Lionel Messi, and Van Gaal has a plan for him. “Messi is the most dangerous creative player, he can create a lot and score goals himself,” he said. “But if they lose the ball, it doesn’t do much, that gives us chances.”

Many coaches have laid out a plan for Messi and failed miserably, although few have Van Gaal’s experience and charisma. If losing to Argentina turns out to be his last foothold in football, he will be missed. He proved in Qatar he’s a man of his own and the game needs more leaders like him. JB

conversation topics

The collective joy of Brazil is something positive
“It’s not about being disrespectful to others, that’s how we do things, that’s who we are,” says Tite of Brazil’s dance festivals. “This can also help young children’s education at school and we will continue to do things our way.” Some lamented Brazil’s delight at beating South Korea, furious at the team’s desire en route to the World Cup quarter-finals to shake your hips. Others will see it for what it is: a group of professional athletes pursuing their dream in a tournament that will be the highlight of their lives. Tite was also criticized for signing third-choice goalkeeper Weverton, but it meant every player in his squad had playing time in Qatar. It showed the human touch of giving a good squad man a chance to play his part at a World Cup. All this results in a great togetherness; No player is left behind, whether on the bench or injured in the stands. Everyone is treated equally and this helps them in their goal of winning the trophy. Wu

Roy Keane expressed his disapproval of Brazil's dancing celebrations after every goal during the game against South Korea.
Roy Keane expressed his disapproval of Brazil’s dancing celebrations after every goal during the game against South Korea. Composite: Getty

Adios, Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique, who gave up his role as Spain coach, made him the fifth World Cup coach to leave, after South Korea’s Paulo Bento, Otto Addo of Ghana, Belgium’s Roberto Martínez and Gerardo Martino of Mexico. Those four had reached the end of their contracts but Luis Enrique had a contract until the end of this year before parting ways today. “It is decided that a new project should be launched,” read a statement from the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). A later statement said: “The RFEF has chosen Luis de la Fuente as the new national team coach.” De La Fuente has been on the national team since 2013 and led the Spanish Olympic team to a silver medal in Tokyo last year. There he worked with several of Luis Enrique’s teams. He will benefit from youngsters like Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati reaching their peaks but, like Luis Enrique, will need to find the right centre-forward which Spain have lacked since the heydays of Fernando Torres and David Villa. JB

The death of a migrant worker during the tournament has proved a sensitive matter for the Qatari hosts. A Filipino man tasked with fixing lights in a parking lot at the Sealine Resort – the training ground of the Saudi Arabian national team – died after reportedly “slipping off a ramp while walking alongside [a] vehicle and fell headfirst onto concrete”.

Officials in Qatar have launched an investigation, saying that “legal action and heavy fines will be imposed on the company” if it is found that “safety protocols have not been followed”. When questioned by reporters on the matter, World Cup 2022 executive director Nasser Al Khater reacted angrily.

“Death is a natural part of life, whether at work or asleep,” Al Khater said. “We are in the middle of a World Cup. And we have a successful World Cup. And that’s something you want to talk about now?” JB

Global media monitoring

The press in the Netherlands expects orange-clad fans to be outnumbered at the Lusail Stadium, with reports that only 1,400 Dutch fans received tickets. There is at least optimism that the team could progress, but De Telegraaf devoted an entire article to concerns that Frenkie de Jong and Nathan Aké could potentially be banned for the semi-finals if booked against Argentina.

In De Volkskrant, William Vissers compared Van Gaal to the legendary Rinus Michels, adding that the current Netherlands coach had changed with the game. “Van Gaal is willing to admit that he is milder than before, but only in behavior. Not in the vision, in the execution of ideas. Then he is strict and sharp. In addition, ahead: smoother, softer. The authoritarian coach no longer suits football anyway, and certainly not for a tournament that is all about team spirit.”

Across the border in Germany people are still pointing the finger after the team’s early exit. According to Bild, a two-hour crisis meeting raised concerns about a “holiday feeling” at the team’s training base. Hansi Flick’s side were based at the Zulal Wellness Resort, a three-hour round trip from Doha, and some players reportedly found the atmosphere a little too relaxed. Flick has dismissed the criticism and focused on Euro 2024, which will be hosted by Germany. “We missed a great opportunity [in Qatar]’ said Flick. “We will learn our lessons.” MBe/NMc

The internet reacts

Luis Enrique isn’t the only live streamer to feature prominently at this World Cup. Sergio Agüero is also a twitcher, or as the kids call it these days, and stopped by his old teammates on Wednesday to review Papu Gómez’s new haircut. The brief assumes it’s a little more Walter Samuel than David Beckham, but we’ll let you judge…

Kun Aguero streams with Messi!!! English subtitles.

Papu Gomez thinks he looks a lot like Beckham 😜. Messi defends him🤣, Kun can’t believe it.

Lio looks relaxed and looking forward to Friday’s game.

Follow me for more football videos with English subs!!!! pic.twitter.com/civKYVkryl

— Juani Jimena (@JimenaJuani) December 8, 2022

Today’s games

Croatia-Brazil, 3pm GMT The unstoppable force meets the immovable object in the first of four quarterfinals. Tite has encouraged his Brazil side to start games aggressively – “we want to score goals quickly so we’ll feel more comfortable later” – but in Croatia they meet the champions of the World Cup batting fest. Zlatko Dalic’s side beat Denmark and Russia on penalties (and England in extra time) to reach the 2018 final, beating Japan in another penalty shootout on Monday. “Our last game confirms that we can do it again,” warned Luka Modric. “We are prepared for anything.” NMc

Netherlands-Argentina, 19:00 GMT The later game on Friday is a fixture to fire up the senses, even on paper. The 1978 final, the unforgettable 1998 quarter-finals and a thrilling semi-final in 2014 – their encounters rarely disappoint, save for a group-stage stalemate in 2006. Croatia or Brazil await the winners in the semi-finals. NMc

And finally…

As Portugal downplayed reports that Cristiano Ronaldo threatened to leave his World Cup training camp after being dropped, Tyson Fury chimed in with his advice to grow old gracefully. “The age factor won’t wait for anyone no matter how you’ve lived,” Fury, 34, told TalkSport. “Even Ronaldo is on the slide now,” added the world heavyweight champion, before dishing out an extremely odd analogy. “If you look at Ronaldo, he’s 37 years old, he had the best doctors, the best physiotherapists – he lived like an egg in Mr Kipling’s pie.” NMc

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