A long-range strike by substitute Memphis Depay gave the Netherlands a 3-2 win over Australia in a thrilling World Cup Group B game in Porto Alegre on Wednesday after a brave, hard-charging Socceroos side had threatened to earn a famous victory.
The game was marked by end-to-end action and spectacular goals - notably a stunning volley by Australia’s Tim Cahill which canceled out a goal by the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben only a minute earlier.
The match belied Australia’s status as underdogs and proved Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal’s warning that they would come out attacking to be correct. But in the end, the mighty Dutch, conquerors of holders Spain in their opening game, prevailed.
With the orange-clad Dutch fans and the Australians in yellow, Porto Alegre’s Beira Rio stadium looked like a giant fruit bowl in the early afternoon sun.
Van Gaal named the same side that hammered Spain 5-1, a result which elevated the Oranje from unfancied status to ones-to-watch. He also stuck with a 5-3-2 formation to guard against an Australian offensive but switched to the 4-3-3 so beloved by the Dutch after half time.
“I felt that Australia in the first half was the most dominating team and I wanted to change that,” he said.
“I felt that in the second half that this worked out much better and there was more pressure on the ball and that we created many more opportunities so that was the solution against Australia.
Both sides struggled to establish domination in the early stages but Australia had the best of it, attacking down both flanks.
It was against the run of play when man-of-the-match Robben opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, he charged towards the goal like a bull to a matador and slammed the ball past Mat Ryan.
Tim Cahill replied immediately, however, by crashing a fantastic 20-meter volley into the roof of the net for what will be a strong contender for goal of the tournament.
“It just felt so right to hit it and I hit it sweetly...This is what it’s all about because everyone dreams of playing on this stage and I want to leave a mark for all the kids back in Australia and around the world to be inspired by this today,” Cahill said.
After that the pace stepped up as the Dutch tried to get more wind in their sails but it was the Australians who looked more threatening. Mark Bresciano missed a chance in the 30th minutes when good work by Matthew Leckie set him up only for him to blast wide.
Nine minutes into the second half, Australia were awarded a penalty after Oliver Bozanic hammered the ball straight at Daryl Janmaat’s arm.
Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak cooly slotted the penalty passed Jasper Cillissen, giving Australia a 2-1 lead and the chance to dream.
But this time it was the Netherlands’ turn to strike back quickly. In the 58th minute Robin Van Persie banged in a well-controlled shot inside the penalty area.
Matthew Leckie almost gave Australia the lead again when he chested down a cross from a few meters out, but Cillessen was able to gather the ball.
Within moments, it was back up the other end of the pitch and Depay whacked in what proved to be the winner with a long-range shot, sealing the game for the Netherlands in the 68th minute.
“Heartbreaker mate, I just wanted the players to get a reward,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said.
“We went out there and we said we’d have a go and we’ll do that in the last game.”
Cahill got a yellow card for clattering into Bruno Martins Indi just before halftime so will miss Australia’s final group game against Spain. Martins Indi was stretchered off.
Van Persie will also be suspended for his team’s final group game after picking up a yellow card.
“The World Cup is the greatest tournament in the world, with all the best players and it’s tough, tough against Australia and again next week and the week after. It’s the World Cup,” Van Persie said.
Robben also paid tribute to the Aussie pluck.
“They played really aggressive today, you really could see they played for their last chance. They were very aggressive, especially the first half we didn’t come into our game and made a lot of mistakes.
The Netherlands now top Group B on six points. They face Chile next in what promises to be a crunching encounter between two powerful sides.
Australia, playing in their third consecutive World Cup finals, will feel hard done by to have no points after a disappointing loss to Chile and their heroics against the Netherlands.
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