Virgil Van Dijk insists the Netherlands are preparing for far more than Lionel Messi alone in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.
Messi has, once again, proved Argentina’s inspiration in Qatar and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is aiming to cap his glittering career by guiding his side to success in next week’s final.
Yet defender Van Dijk knows Dutch hopes do not just rest on whether they can stop Paris St Germain’s former Barcelona talisman.
The Liverpool centre-back said at a press conference: “He’s one of the best players of all time, obviously. He has done it for so many years.
“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 Netherlands versus Messi, it’s Netherlands versus Argentina.”
The clash at Lusail Stadium renews one of the tournament’s great rivalries.
Argentina prevailed when they met in the 1978 final but a stunning late Dennis Bergkamp strike saw the Dutch edge a tight quarter-final in 1998.
The last time they met was in a semi-final eight years ago when an Argentina side captained by Messi won through on penalties.
Van Dijk is ready should progress come down to spot-kicks again.
“We have been practising,” the 31-year-old said. “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.
“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.”
Having reached the World Cup final three times, the Netherlands is one of the great footballing nations but the country is yet to lift the trophy.
Van Dijk said: “It’s a quarter-final, that’s special. There is hunger, there are dreams.
“We know we’re in the quarter-finals and only three games away from something really big. This is our chance.”