World Cup 2014: Australia 2-3 Netherlands

World Cup 2014: Australia 2-3 Netherlands

Having smashed the world champions in their opening game, it was reasonable to expect the Dutch to make easy work of an Australian team that had huffed and puffed but ultimately fell down in a good performance against Chile. Someone forgot to tell them there was a difference between the two.

Louis van Gaal sent out the same eleven from the first game, continuing in a 3-4-1-2, while Australia made two changes to their 4-2-3-1: the more adventurous Matt McKay replacing Mark Milligan in the double pivot and Ryan McGowan coming in for Ivan Franjic at right-back.

Not only did the Dutch continue with the same starting eleven and formation, they also continued with the same gameplan, looking to hit long balls towards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. While this made sense against a team like Spain who the Netherlands could reasonably looking to catch out, it seemed a bit odd to play with the same strategy against a team they could easily outplay.

Nevertheless, to their credit, Ange Postecoglou’s men didn’t sit back and try to scrap their way to a 0-0 draw as many would have done and actually managed to outplay the Dutch from the start. They worked hard to close down the Dutch defenders, pressing really well to limit their ability to play it out from the back. This did however leave their defence exposed if that first line of defence was breached, most obviously when Robben left the high Australian defensive line for dead as he scored the opening goal.

Tim Cahill came up with a spectacular reply immediately however, with a Marco van Basten-esque volley. It required a spectacular finish with his wrong foot, yet came from a frequent source of joy for the Australians: their full-back sending in a cross from deep. The Dutch defence found itself far more troubled against the Australians than it had against the Spanish – the runs of wingers Mathew Leckie and Tommy Oar were stretching the Dutch back three , while McGowan and Jason Davidson, as well as McKay making late runs, were left free to venture forward if the wing-backs tried to help out the back three. Mark Bresciano was also much brighter than he had been against Chile, ensuring the Dutch midfield was kept occupied.

The injury to Bruno Martins Indi gave Van Gaal to change things around for the second half. The central defender was replaced by a winger, Memphis Depay, as they switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Robben moving out to the right. The Australian full-backs were now occupied by wingers, Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat picked up the wingers, the midfield got Bresciano and the two centre-backs watched Cahill.

Australia took the lead with an extremely harsh penalty, but it wasn’t long before Van Persie equalised, played onside by a left-back presumably worried by Robben’s pace behind him, and substitute Depay sealed the win with a long range strike that escaped poor Mathew Ryan in goal.

The Dutch were punished this time for the same gambles that went unpunished against Spain, yet they adapted their gameplan accordingly and came back to seal qualification to the second round. Australia once again gave an excellent account of themselves, although left again without points and their limited ability make it likely they will leave Brazil propping up the group.

2 thoughts on “World Cup 2014: Australia 2-3 Netherlands

  1. Australia has been an interesting team that I’ve kept an eye on, in particular to see how their overhaul of their football system and change to copy the dutch has gone and whether it will prove to be a better move than two other nations that have spent the last decade developing their local football scene, the US and Japan.

    Australia set up perfectly to starve the Dutch wide players of the ball with their front three cutting off passes from the left and right backs to the wing backs and with their midfield being tightly marked 3 v 3 it meant that the Dutch resorted to rushed lofted long balls out of the back (or from the keeper) which Australia were happy to compete for (and mostly win).

    First Dutch goal was less about them beating the press and more about Australia playing a square pass which was picked off. Van Gaal himself has commented about the wide pass being more risky than the vertical pass in the lead up to this tournament and this was evidence for that case. In transition the Australian CB made a poor judgement leaving his CB partner 3 v 1 (though almost closing Robben to stop the goal).

    The Dutch were forced to change formation in the second half, though I suspect that this would have happened anyway as Australia were closing the Dutch backs too easily. The change to four at the back changed the tactical battle slightly as the Dutch got more time on the ball, the Australian wingers were prepared for the change but had to drop deeper to track the full backs.

    I’m not sure I agree with the synopsis on the two teams.

    Firstly the penalty was a certain penalty, the players arm was away from the body and obstructed the flight of the ball. It was perhaps fortunate for Australia but the player in question, Bozanic had been exceptional since coming on in the second half. He provided a mobility and willingness to dribble the ball out of trouble that the Australian midfield had missed until that point (preferring players with stronger passing attributes). He had provided a lot of drive and in this instance had the dutch defender on the back foot.

    Additionally, I’m not sure I agree that the Australians had a limited ability on the whole. They’ve clearly jettisoned a lot of older limited players like Lucas Neill and have benefitted from the youth developed in their relatively new national league that have gone overseas. Oar, Leckie, Spiranovic, Davidson, Bozanic, Jedinak, Halloran, Ryan, McGowan, McKay all currently play or have previously played for European teams in top or second teir leagues. The two veterans Bresciano (Serie A) and Cahill (EPL) have played at the top level for years with only the other CB Wilkinson having not played outside Asia (and it showed in his mistake for Robbens goal).

    My synopsis would have been that the Dutch are always technically and tactically excellent. They have chosen to forgo Total Football for Direct Pragmatic football and with two players in Van Persie and Robben, why would you blame them. They are however reliant on these two players ability to make things happen. How would they fare against a team able to close them both down.

    Australia were excellent, Technically sound, Tactically much improved, aggressive, positive and fast to go forward and a stark contast to 4 years ago where they were ponderous and negative under ironically a Dutch manager. Where they are lacking, compared to teams like Chile and Netherlands is 1) at the back where they lack depth in the defending department even taking into account the unavailability of some players such as Middlesbroughs Rhy Williams and Villa’s Chris Herd and 2) up front they lack a true Striker with Cahill really being something between a Striker and a Midfielder. It was evident when he received the ball in acres of space against a retreating back line and lacked the ability to take them on and passed it. Australia may have been an interesting proposition had they a player in the mould of Van Persie, Suarez or even Sturridge.

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