Group B: Winning habit will serve Dutch well
If the sign of a good team is winning when not playing well, Holland is going to go a long way into this World Cup.
Spain, on the other hand, won’t.
That much was confirmed in the latest round of Group B fixtures which settled who will progress and who won’t.
Traditionally, reigning champions don’t fare too well when it comes to defending their crown at World Cups, but surely no one expected Spain to crash out at the first hurdle, particularly on the back of two wretched performances.
Despite a thorough beating on match day one against Holland, Vincent Del Bosque only made one change, moving David Silva in the hole behind Diego Costa – replacing Xavi – and playing Pedro on the right.
Silva’s added mobility allowed him to provide a greater influence in an attacking sense, providing four shot assists to Xavi’s one from open play against Holland, and once more Spain’s passing and possession numbers were impressive.
However, that didn’t seem to matter once again, as Chile opted for a more direct game than the one employed against Australia, aiming to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible and go straight on the attack.
That was epitomised by Chile’s first goal, which came 20 minutes into the game when Alexis Sanchez pounced on a poor Xabi Alonso back pass and caught the Spain defence on the back foot.
Having won the ball in the attacking half, the Chilean attack bombed forward, outnumbering the Spanish defence which was not helped by the lethargic tracking runs of Alonso and Sergio Busquets, eventually allowing Eduardo Vargas a fantastic opportunity he was never going to waste.
Spain was not short of its own opportunities, managing six shots on target – two more than Chile – but could not convert, thanks in large part to new Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Iker Casillas at the other end once again failed to impress, raising more questions about his inclusion after limited playing time with Real Madrid this season.
He was directly culpable for Chile’s second goal, opting to punch a ball most would have caught. Not only did he punch the ball, he punched it straight at Charles Aranguiz, who dealt instant punishment as swift as it was devastating, smashing the ball beyond the hapless Casillas.
It was the seventh goal he has conceded this World Cup, compared to the two Spain conceded in 2010.
With the champs done and dusted, can Holland fly the flag for Group B?
They certainly showed the heart to do just that against the Socceroos in a thrilling 3-2 win.
Ange Postecoglou’s men were fearless and had the Dutch rattled on a number of occasions, but judging by the response of Louis van Gaal’s team, it’s going to take something special to knock them off.
When captain Mile Jedinak put the Socceroos 2-1 up on the back of a contentious penalty and arguably the best goal of the tournament thus far from Tim Cahill, millions of Australians – me included – dared to dream.
The Socceroos were fearless. Not since 2006 has an Australian team played with the freedom and class it has at this World Cup.
Results have not gone their way, but given Postecoglou’s Socceroos rebuild started less than 12 months ago, the performances have been hugely encouraging.
The difference between the two sides was emphasised within 60 short, devastating seconds however.
Tommy Oar – not for the first time – found himself in a glorious position when he cut in from the left and received the ball well inside the box. He opted to pass instead of shoot with the back post relatively open, but his pass was terribly over hit, making it almost impossible for Matthew Leckie to score and put Australia back in the lead.
Leckie, who was outstanding once more, could only chest the ball into the path of Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, and the 'keeper wasted no time in setting his team’s next attack in motion.
Seconds later, Memphis Depay put Holland in the lead with a long-range effort that evaded Mat Ryan in the Australian goal.
It was another cruel lesson for the Socceroos, who spurned a number of opportunities and paid the price at the other end for costly mistakes that allowed Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie to score.
Full credit has to go to Holland however, and if that is how they’re going to punish teams that give them an inch, then it is going to take a fantastic team to stop them from winning the tournament.
An Ode to Timmy
Tim Cahill does not play for a powerhouse nation, but he is a powerhouse player.
Suspension has ruled Cahill out of Australia’s final group game against Spain, almost certainly meaning that his superb performance against Holland was his last at a World Cup.
As usual, he did not leave the pitch without making his mark.
When Ryan McGowan floated a hopeful ball from just inside the attacking half, no one could have foreseen what was about to happen.
No one, except maybe Cahill himself.
“At home in my garden I score like that everyday but this is what’s it’s all about,” Cahill said.
“When the ball was flying over normally people expect me to jump and head that from 18 yards but it just sat so beautifully off the shoulder of the defender and I struck it and it went in.”
To say he struck it well is understating it, but perhaps that sums Cahill up. He’s an understated talent that never disappoints.
His World Cup journey started in spectacular fashion when he inspired an Australian side making its first World Cup appearance in 32 years to a spectacular win over Japan.
He has gone on to score five World Cup goals, comfortably the best of any Socceroo, and with 34 goals from 71 caps, is Australia’s greatest international goal scorer.
More importantly, he has left a fantastic mark on football’s greatest showcase and he will never be forgotten for it.
Matthew Galea is a 22-year-old sports journalist currently working in regional Victoria, Australia and is a part-time armchair manager. To date, he has spent most of his career agreeing with Sir Alex Ferguson, although the better part of last season was spent trying to tell David Moyes how to do his job.