Louis van Gaal leaned to his left, wrapped his arm around Denzel Dumfries, and planted a kiss on the player’s cheek.
Dumfries probably deserved even more smooches from his coach on Saturday after leading the Netherlands into the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals with a goal and two assists in the 3-1 victory over the USA.
“Yesterday, or a day before yesterday, I gave him a big fat kiss,” Van Gaal said at the post-match news conference.
“I am going to give him another big fat kiss so everybody can see.” And so he did.
“There you go,” Van Gaal said, showing his affection for the right back, who plays for Italian club Inter Milan.
Dumfries did it all against the Americans as the Netherlands extended its unbeaten run to 19 games as it pursues an elusive World Cup title.
The Dutch national team carries the burden of probably being best soccer country to never have won the World Cup. The Netherlands has been the runner-up three times — 1974, 1978 and 2010 — and was third in 2014 after losing to Argentina on penalties in the semifinals.
However, the team failed to qualify in 2018, probably providing more motivation this time.
Dumfries scored Oranje’s final goal in the 81st minute on a volley after second-half substitute Haji Wright scored in the 76th to briefly get the Americans back into the match. He also added assists on the other two goals at Khalifa International Stadium — Memphis Depay’s in the 10th, and Daley Blind’s in first-half stoppage time.
“It was a great game and I’m happy I can be important for the team,” said Dumfries, who is named for American actor Denzel Washington.
“I’m proud to have his name,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of Denzel Washington. He is a really strong personality who voices his views and I see that as an example.” Dumfries said Oranje was “more focused” than it was in lackluster group games — a 1-1 draw with Ecuador and 2-0 victories over Senegal and Qatar.
“We knew that we could play better than we did in the first three matches,” he said.
The United States had more possession of the ball, and more attempts at goal — 16 to 12. But the Dutch dealt with that just fine.
“In Holland we’re used to having the ball, to having possession,” Dumfries said.
“This is a different way of playing. I also understand the criticism in Holland because we can play much better with the ball.” United States goalkeeper Matt Turner and the American defense were under constant pressure handling crosses into the 6-yard box.
“It was like they had a little bit of extra patience and cut the ball back, and we didn’t track well,” Turner said. “I felt like every time they crossed the ball they got a head on it or they got a piece of it.” Cody Gakpo, who has scored three goals in the tournament, said what Van Gaal has been talking up: The Netherlands can finally win the title, though few think this is one of the nation’s best teams.
“We’ve believed in ourselves from the start and we’ve come here with a goal,” Gakpo said.
“And that’s to try and become world champions. We believe in that.”