sport

Van Gaal: It's a 50-50 match

Louis van Gaal says the Netherlands will have to do much more than muzzle Lionel Messi in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final, which he believes is a “50-50 match.”

With four goals and some dazzling displays, Barcelona superstar Messi has been the star of Argentina's sometimes-fraught progress to the semi-finals.

Netherlands coach Van Gaal insists that they cannot focus too much attention on Messi in Sao Paulo, and he believes the match-up is too close to call.

"We are playing against Argentina," he said. "We're preparing a strategy for a team, not individual players, so I'll be ready for Argentina and their players.

"Messi has been elected the best player in the world. There's a reason for that. If you score so many goals, you have an added value.

"But on the most important stage, he hasn't always pulled it off. He's always found it difficult to do that at international level and he wants to change that at this tournament.

"We want to stop him, so that's going to be quite a challenge."

Both teams won all three of their group-phase matches before each pulling off a pair of narrow wins in the knockout stage, and Van Gaal says that there is very little between them.

"I don't think there's a favourite," he said. "In the semi-finals, the countries are at the same level. The results have reflected that in the quarter-finals and the last 16, so I'd say it'll be a 50-50 match.

"We'll need a bit of luck. The coin has to fall your way."

The match kicks off at 9pm UK time, which is 10pm in the Netherlands, and Van Gaal issued an appeal to the nation's parents to let their children stay up and watch the match.

"I would always allow my children to watch the match, because this is absolutely unique, I think," Van Gaal said.

"Just look at the impact of the World Cup on a global level. And, in general, most of the children are on holiday, so I don't think we should deprive them of that. They won't sleep anyway, because they will be so stressed and tense to know whether or not the Netherlands will win that match or not.

"So I would strongly advise parents to let their children watch the match."