Australia v Netherlands World Cup match report: Louis van Gaal's side fight back after Tim Cahill's stunning volley to triumph in absorbing contest
Robben, Van Persie and Depay scored for Netherlands in thriller
“I am not a standing up, sitting down manager,” Louis van Gaal had said beforehand, grumbling about the stadium’s subterranean dug-out, but to anyone but him it was hard to keep to a seat as the events of one of the great World Cup matches unravelled in Porto Alegre.
The Australians were desolate when the afternoon was over yet their contribution to this occasion will be remembered for many a long year. Their nation has developed something of a Dutch football fixation since Guus Hiddink took them to the 2006 finals and their captain delivered a masterclass moment of Dutch calibre; a volleyed goal of imperious technique to match Marco van Basten’s against the USSR in the 1988 European Championship final.
“It was one of the five greatest moments of my life,” the renaissance man Tim Cahill said last night. The other four were his World Cup goals he claimed, lest anyone imagine he might have been talking about his four children.
The Netherlands continue on their way, though the imperious mood they created by destroying the Spanish 5-1 has by no means been maintained. Australia were their equals. And buried in the story of first-half Dutch fecklessness was the extraordinarily good fortune that Robin van Persie should feel at not being dismissed for a lunging tackle on the opposition captain Mile Jedinak, when he had already been booked.
Arjen Robben puts the Netherlands ahead after an unstoppable run Van Persie’s yellow, for extending a forearm into Matthew Spiranovic, means he will miss the concluding group game against Chile, though the Netherlands’ qualification makes that no great loss. His lack of self-control and the Dutch waywardness in possession – a situation improved by Van Gaal reverting to the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation after the break – does not create an air of invincibility for the weeks ahead.
“If you lose possession of the ball so simply and so often, then it doesn’t matter which formation you play,” Van Gaal said. “So as a coach, I needed to change something at half-time. I had to change their mind-set because they needed to play the ball round, and you can do that by means of a different strategy –something to hold on to – and they will have faith and hope. Fortunately it turned out OK, but it could just as well have turned out different.”
Recoveries are about people, not just systems. The 20-year-old substitute sent onto the left wing in the 4-3-3, PSV’s Memphis Depay, made a substantial impact.
The Australians made good on their promise that they were not here to defend. Van Gaal’s players could not get on the ball for long periods of a first half in which one of the more obscure names here – Matt McKay of Brisbane Roar – was the driving force of a side of pace and precision, playing a high line that denied the Dutch any chance to play out.
The Netherlands appeared to have put their disconnect behind them when they broke out to score. Daley Blind’s header won possession that Arjen Robben seized upon near the halfway line, evading a wild kick from Alex Wilkinson as he raced away to score, low and left-footed.
Tim Cahill celebrates one of the 'greatest moment of his life' But the world’s 62nd-ranked nation were not settling for that. A mere 70 seconds had elapsed when Mark Bresciano shuffled the ball to Mathew Leckie, whose low diagonal cross Cahill watched onto his left foot before the goal. Sublime.
A yellow card for Cahill – whose barge on Bruno Martins Indi saw the defender taken to hospital for suspected concussion – removed him from his team’s game with Spain. But Australia remained the better side and took the lead through Jedinak’s penalty – awarded when Daryl Janmaat failed to tuck his arm in as Oliver Bozanic crossed directly in front of him. Then Leckie was presented with the chance to claim a place in his nation’s sporting history. The Germany-based player was waiting, unmarked, when Tommy Oar stepped into McKay’s pass and crossed accurately. Leckie was too far advanced to get a head on the ball and could only direct it to goal with his chest.
When Jasper Cillessen collected, the Dutch broke away directly to score at the other end. Robben’s industry helped locate Depay, whose reverse pass was finished ruthlessly by Van Persie. The left-back Jason Davidson dallied treacherously, playing the striker in. Then Depay found space for a 25-yard show which swerved in front of keeper Mat Ryan, who was also at fault.
There was no way back from that for the valiant Australians. “We showed courage and bravery with the way we played from going down 1-0. I have never seen Holland play the ball long so many times,” said Cahill. They are almost certainly heading home but with a satisfaction that almost matches what Hiddink bestowed upon them eight years ago.
Netherlands: (5-3-2) Cillessen; Janmaat, Dr Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi (Depay 48), Blind; Guzman (Wijnaldum 78), De Jong, Sneijder; Van Persie (Lens 87), Robben.
Australia: (4-5-1) Ryan; McGowan, Wilkinson, Spiranovic, Davidson; Leckie, Jedinak, Bresciano (Bozanic 52), McKay, Oar (Taggart 77); Cahill (Halloran 68)
Star man: Cahill
Match rating: 9
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