A powerful and pacey Netherlands side beat Chile 2-0 on Monday in a game that only burst into life late on, securing them top spot in World Cup Group B and meaning a tricky meeting with hosts Brazil in the last 16 looks unlikely.
Substitute Leroy Fer scored with his first touch of the tournament, thumping home a close-range header in the 77th minute.
Another replacement, Memphis Depay, made it two in stoppage- time after a marauding Arjen Robben broke down the left, turning what had been a scrappy match short of goal-mouth action into a comfortable win for the Dutch.
The Netherlands ended the group stage on a perfect nine points with Chile behind them on six. Reigning champions Spain finished third on three points after beating Australia 3-0.
“I think it was a match played at the very highest level, and the most clever team won,” coach Louis van Gaal told reporters, having seen his players frustrate Chile and reduce them to a single shot on target, and that from a tight angle.
Man-of-the-match Robben said he was proud of the Dutch defence, an aspect of their play that has been overshadowed so far by a fearsome attack that had to do without Robin van Persie, who was suspended after receiving two yellow cards.
“It was a very good game to watch, there was a lot of passion on the pitch, we defended really well. I am proud of the way the team defended,” Robben said in a television interview.
“I think we did a great job and this is not where we want to stop. It is a fantastic result and a fantastic performance and we don’t want it to end here, we need to change our mindset as we want to move forward.”
Van Gaal would not be drawn on whether he would be pleased to avoid Brazil in the round of 16 match. The hosts are expected to top Group A after they meet Cameroon later in the day, with Croatia and Mexico also in contention to progress.
“There’s nothing I can change about this so I am not going to answer,” he said.
Chile, already qualified but knowing only a win would secure top spot owing to an inferior goal difference, pressed hardest and bossed possession, but their lone effort on goal summed up a frustrating afternoon for the South Americans.
Despite the impressive support of a large Chile contingent in the stands of Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo, they foundered time and again on a wall of orange and the absence of influential midfielder Arturo Vidal cost them dearly.
Vidal, who had knee surgery last month, told reporters on Sunday that he was ready to play, but coach Jorge Sampaoli appeared to have the knockout stages in mind when he left him on the bench.
Alexis Sanchez dropped deep and worked hard to pull the strings in midfield, but the Netherlands were strong in the tackle and grew into the game after being eclipsed early on.
“I think that this was a match that we expected, with the Netherlands trying to use lots of people on the counter-attack,” said Sampaoli.
“We looked for victory, we wanted to win and we couldn’t find a solution to a team that only defended and only aspired to long-range shots, not even counter-attacks.”
Chile are now most likely to face Brazil in the last 16 on Saturday and the Netherlands are expected to play either Croatia or Mexico on Sunday.
Chile’s best result at a World Cup came on home soil in 1962, when they finished third.
In 1998 and 2010 they reached the last 16, only to exit at the hands of Brazil on both occasions.
“This is a Chile that I am proud to be at the helm of, in spite of the fact that we didn’t get a result,” Sampaoli said.
“They have their heads held high and they are getting ready for the round of 16.”
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