PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The Netherlands had to work much harder for victory over the World Cup’s lowest-ranked team than it did against the defending world and European champion.
A goalkeeping blunder by Maty Ryan handed substitute Memphis Depay his first international goal and the Netherlands the winner Wednesday after a spirited Australia had brought the Dutch back down to earth with a bump following their 5-1 thrashing of Spain in their Group B opener.
“In a tournament you can’t play every game fantastically from beginning to end,” striker Robin van Persie said.
Arjen Robben opened the scoring with a break-away goal before Tim Cahill’s stunning volley brought the sides level just a minute later. Mile Jedinak then converted a 54th minute penalty and Van Persie equalized with his third goal of the tournament four minutes after that.
Depay’s speculative long-range shot beat Ryan in the 68th to give the Dutch a 3-2 victory.
Chile’s 2-0 win over Spainlater in the evening was enough to guarantee the Netherlands a spot in the round of 16. The Dutch will play Chile in Sao Paulo on Monday to decide the Group B winner as defending champion Spain made an early exit.
It was a tactical change by coach Louis van Gaal that may have helped turn the game for the Dutch, who gave away the ball too often in the first half under pressure from Australia.
After starting with the same 5-3-2 formation that tore apart Spain, Van Gaal switched to the traditional Dutch system of 4-3-3 at half time — a change forced on him in part by an injury to Bruno Martins Indi and in part to switch the way his players were approaching the match.
“That is the natural system that every Dutch boy grows up with,” Van Gaal said. “We can always switch to that system. In the second half it went much better.”
Regardless of which system his team was playing, Van Gaal said he was pleased with its productivity.
“We’ve scored eight goals and conceded three in two matches,” Van Gaal said. “That fits into the ‘Holland school'” of attacking football.”
The coach was helped again by his star strikers.
Van Persie’s second-half goal was not as spectacular as his header against Spain, but he was again in the right place to slot home a chance. Robben again showed that at 30 he’s still one of the fastest attackers in football, sprinting half the length of the pitch and driving in a low shot to open the scoring.
“It is fantastic to have strikers like Robben and Van Persie,” Van Gaal said. “They’ve both scored three times and we’ve only been playing two matches … and the way they score is also unbelievably good and attractive for the fans.”
The Netherlands will face Chile without all-time top scorer Van Persie, who was given his second yellow card of the tournament early in the second half, meaning he is automatically suspended for the next match.
Van Gaal also will have to wait to see if Martins Indi is fit after the central defender was carried off late in the first half following a late challenge by Cahill and sent to hospital to undergo tests for a possible concussion.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou paid tribute to the way his team fought, and predicted the Dutch could go a long way in the tournament.
“They’re going to be a handful — particularly if you look at the front three,” he said. “Arjen Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, they’re good enough to unlock any defense.”