Of the 17 Barcelona players who travelled to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, as many as 14 have progressed to the knockout stages of the tournament, with Andreas Christensen (Denmark), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany), and Ronald Araujo (Uruguay) the only three getting eliminated at the group stages.
Of the 14 who remain in the competition, two will be in action later today as Barcelona duo Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay will take the field when the Netherlands take on the United States of America.
Ahead of the first knockout-stage match of the 2022 World Cup, de Jong sat down for an interview during which he discussed his first-ever World Cup appearance and the upcoming game against the USMNT where he will face Barcelona loanee Sergino Dest.
Talking about his maiden World Cup campaign, de Jong said: “The World Cup is obviously a dream for every player. So, really nice. The first match of a World Cup is always special.”
The midfielder then stressed on the importance of the upcoming matches, saying: “Now, too, of course, the phase that is coming now is all-decisive. I mean every match it is either you continue or you go home.”
De Jong then touched upon having his family present at the World Cup to support him, saying: “Yes, of course, they like being here. Everyone likes to experience a World Cup, so they like that.”
Looking back to the times when he grew up supporting the Netherlands team at World Cups as a child, de Jong reminisced: “Of course, you sometimes think back to that, or you sometimes talk about it to people.
“I have also been able to experience a number of World Cups as a supporter. And now itself, which is even more beautiful.”
De Jong scored his first World Cup goal for the Netherlands in their last group game against hosts Qatar. And the Barcelona ace admitted that it was a special moment for the 25-year-old midfielder.
“Nice, of course, to score. The fact that it is at a World Cup might make it even more special,” he said.
Reflecting on the Netherlands’ run in the group stages of the tournament, de Jong said: “Pretty good I think. I mean, we were group winners. That was the goal. We are happy with that. Seven points, which I think is also pretty good.
“With Senegal and Ecuador, two strong opponents. Of course, you have to beat Qatar and we did. So, yes, very happy with that. And now on to the next rounds.”
On the aspects of the team’s performance which he thought went well and the things that need improvement, de Jong said:
“I think we are reasonably stable as a team even if we play a lesser game with the ball. We never give much away, we stick together and be very hard to beat. That is very good in this team. In addition, we also have individual qualities that can decide a game.
“The game on the ball could be a bit better, we know that. But I think, in general, if you look at the World Cup, it’s difficult for a lot of teams to play well. We are no exception to that. But if we win, I’m happy.”
Commenting on manager Louis van Gaal’s statements about how no game in the World Cup is easy, de Jong echoed the legendary Dutchman’s views, saying:
“Yes I think it has been proven again in this tournament. You see surprises or teams that you don’t know very well in advance, make it difficult for many sides or win/draw against bigger countries. I think football in general has gotten to a higher level. So I agree with the coach, there are no easy games.”
Looking forward to the game against the USMNT and what he expected from the opponents, de Jong said:
“Tough game. I think I’ve watched the USA twice now and think they are a strong team. They have a lot of energy, speed, strength, quite young with a lot of potential. So, America left a good impression on me.”
On if he knew anyone personally from the USMNT, de Jong named his former Barcelona teammate Sergino Dest, who is currently away on loan at AC Milan.
“Yes, Sergino of course, I know personally. So, it’s always nice to meet guys like that. I have had brief contact with him, but before it was known we would play against them. I think he likes it, a special match for him too. We will see,” he said.
The midfielder also insisted that the Netherlands were yet to show their best in the World Cup and will look to do so in the most important stage of the tournament going forward.
“Now the most important phase of the tournament begins. And we just have to make sure that we are focused, do what we have to, and win those games,” he said.
“In any case, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves, in the team. I think we have shown that we are a very strong team. I don’t think we have lost a single game under this coach, 18 now, came first in the group with Ecuador and Senegal, which are strong teams.”
“I think we have a very good team with lots of quality. And we haven’t shown our best yet, that’s true. But that is also only positive in a sense; We only had good results so we have an upward trend,” he concluded.