The Socceroos face the Netherlands at Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, tomorrow, June 19, from 2am (AEST).
In Group B Australia takes on the flying Dutchmen in their second game of the 2014 World Cup.
For all the optimism that has surrounded the first up performance of the Socceroos against Chile, a similar result will have their hopes dashed of progressing beyond the group stage. And the feeling is this Dutch team will not take their foot off the pedal if given such an early advantage as the Chileans were afforded.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou also has his hands full at the selection table with the already ruled out Ivan Franjic now being joined by Mark Milligan on the sidelines. Depth is not an area the current batch covers easily and how Postecoglou decides to respond to these absences will be telling.
Holland brilliantly led by Louis Van Gaal - a genuine master tactician who dissected the Spanish plan to an incredibly high level of detail - will have been very intense with his players in the lead up to this game having coached long enough to know that games such as this, are the ones in which, if the players feel too relaxed and confident, can end up leaving them all red-faced. To find the perfect tension for them to operate with the right concentration and intention is critical for the Dutch.
The Dutch set up when attacking against Spain was a 1-3-4-1-2, with Daley Blind and Daryl Jamaat operating as the wing-backs, then reverting to a 1-5-3-2 in defence for which they would join the last line of defence.
It was a system employed that relied heavily on taking away all the space between first line and second line of defence, and additionally to protect the overlap from the fullback’s of Spain.
In numerous areas it involved man-marking both in midfield and in wide areas when Spanish wingers came inside rather than zonal marking, and only when Spain decided to make second line runs or pass and make more penetrating forward runs did it show susceptibility.
Why would you change something that worked so well? Only van Gaal knows, but each game comes on its own merits and the Dutch mentor will have placed just as much effort into studying the Socceroos style as he did with the Spanish. And the word is he may revert to the more traditional 1-4-3-3.
Either way, expect the brilliance of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben to shine. Whether they are paired with Wesley Sneijder pulling the strings from behind, or as part of a front three, they are two names that would leave any defender with a sleepless night.
Australia is in a precarious position. Another loss effectively rules out progression. Yet there is optimism in the camp that they can cause an upset of epic proportions.
They were punished severely for their poor start against Chile and as mentioned in the previous preview, the first 15 minutes is a telling period where they will need to settle immediately. The better teams sense this anxiousness and the Dutch will punish any trepidation by the Socceroos.
Expect Ryan McGowan to start at right full-back in place of Ivan Franjic and possibly James Holland to come in as a direct replacement for Mark Milligan, or if Postecoglou is wanting to play a more counter attacking style another option could be that Mark Bresciano drops in to replace Milligan, and in his place Tommy Oar starts as the No10 leaving Ben Halloran and Mathew Leckie on either wing to run at their defenders.
Bresciano this way can assist in building up the game from the back and instigating many attacks from deeper and allow the more mobile and youthful Oar, Leckie and Halloran to cause havoc with their speed.
For the Socceroos the transition to attack is the most critical moment in this game as it is the only time when the Dutch will not be able to form an optimal defensive shape.
The ability to use this moment with scintillating speed and efficiency will be key, passing through the Dutch midfield line and into Tim Cahill upon regaining the ball, followed by supporting runs, will have the Dutch concerned, especially if they have reverted to a back four which highlights the lack of speed of Ron Vlaar.
Prediction: Australia 2 – 2 Netherlands
Another herculean task for the Socceroos who prior to witnessing the Dutch destroy Spain 5-1, might have penciled the second Group B games as the one in which they fancied themselves most. How this perception of the Dutch has changed since game one is anyone’s guess.
However, I am a firm believer that in football anything is possible with the correct attention to details, ensuring the preparation is thorough and there is a genuine desire to achieve together.
Therefore, I will not change my belief that this is still the game where the Socceroos can gain a minimum one point, but this is only possible if they navigate through the first 15 minutes of the game without conceding.
They showed that once settled they can compete and I’m sure Postecoglou will have addressed this period of the game sufficiently.