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.