The second round of fixtures in Group B sees Australia and the Netherlands face each other in Porto Alegre on Wednesday, with the two sides having achieved contrasting results in their opening fixtures last week.
The Netherlands enjoyed a dream start, hammering Spain 5-1 in the tournament's most unexpected result so far. Conversely, Australia went down 3-1 to Chile in their opener—finding themselves behind 2-0 after just 14 minutes.
While Netherlands' defeat of Spain may not have been completely unexpected, the manner of it certainly was. Lest we forget, the last time the two sides had met was in the 2010 World Cup final when Spain emerged as victors, one of their three consecutive tournament victories.
Much of the focus following that match has been placed upon the possible demise of Spain. However, much credit must go to Louis van Gaal and his side, who attacked with clinical speed.
Where to start with that. Could have been different game if Silva took that chance, but Spain just couldn't handle it after equaliser...— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) June 13, 2014
The Dutchman changed his tactics to completely expose Spain's weaknesses—predominantly the space left behind their full-backs when caught high up the pitch. This was something in which Arjen Robben revelled.
Van Gaal went with Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind as wing-backs, two battling midfielders in Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman, allowing Robben to combine with Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie on the counter-attack, and it worked perfectly.
The Dutch, all of a sudden, look like genuine contenders to lift the prize they came so close to collecting in South Africa four years ago.
For now, though, they must ensure their smooth passage from their group, and a victory against Australia will do that. It will also establish them as firm favourites to win Group B.
"You win the World Cup by winning the final," Van Gaal said ahead of the game with Australia. "This is just the first step. We have to keep our feet on the ground, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. We need to prove our capability to win over Australia, which won't be that easy."
Winning Group B means playing the runner-up in Group A in the last 16, thus avoiding the likely winners of Group A, host nation Brazil.
Holland will therefore be keen to ensure they remain focussed in order to top their group, avoid Brazil and probably consign Brazil and Spain to a tough last-16 match.
How Will Australia Approach the Match?
Australians may have been fearing a heavy defeat when they were two behind to Chile after just 14 minutes in their opener, but the Aussies battled back courtesy of Tim Cahill's excellent header and a very hard-working performance. In the end, 3-1 was a little harsh on the Socceroos.
Ange Postecoglou's side had a clear tactic to expose Chile's short defence with Cahill's aerial ability, but that tactic is unlikely to work as well against the Dutch. Centre-back Ron Vlaar was the proverbial colossus against Spain, while Stefan de Vrij is 6'2".
It's unlikely the Aussies' wide men will get the space to deliver to Cahill too, with the Dutch wing-backs protecting their three central defenders from wide areas.
It looks like a tough test for Australia, to say the least.
The Netherlands' Fire
The Netherlands played with pace, fire and energy against Spain, with Robben's run for his second goal of the game reportedly recorded at 23 mph, the fastest ever by a footballer (per the Daily Star).
Such pace against Australia will give the Socceroos serious problems.
Van Gaal's side were out-passed by Spain (36 percent possession, per WhoScored.com) but had an impressive 14 shots on goal, of which 10 were on target—and five resulted in goals. Going 50 percent on shots on goal shows just how clinical the Dutch were.
Van Gaal looks to have found an in-form Van Persie and a hungry Robben; they're both 30 years old and perhaps know that this is their last chance to make their mark on a World Cup. Fire is in their belly.
Both of them, having picked up a double each against the Spaniards, will perhaps have an eye on the Golden Boot and will look to score often against Australia to establish themselves as candidates for the award.
Netherlands won't be suffering any hangover from the Spain win; Van Gaal will ensure as much. They have a side with experienced players who know the importance of securing another win against Australia.
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