A brave and positive Socceroos performance in Porto Alegre wasn’t enough to seal them three points in their Group B battle with an impressive Dutch side, coming into the game off the back of that 5-1 thumping of holders Spain on Saturday. While the Netherlands eventually held out for the win, it will be the Australian side who won the neutrals’ hearts on Wednesday evening, with a Tim Cahill wonder-goal capping off a display of just how far Australian football has developed in recent years, probably shading the balance of the game with a young squad, which will no doubt be even better in four years.
Story of the Game
Australia started the brighter of the two teams, their youthful exuberance shining through in an energetic opening 10 minutes, dominating position as the Dutch were forced to wait out their turn with the ball. It was, however, last tournament’s losing finalists who had the first chance – an Arjen Robben drive from deep leaving the Australian defence looking slightly precarious, but it was dealt with well and nothing came of the opportunity.
Minutes later, the first real chance came. Offensive midfielder Mark Bresciano had a try from range, his shot bouncing off of Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij and earning Australia a corner. Cillessen in the Dutch goal dealt with the chance well, and soon it was Mat Ryan’s turn to make a save, gracefully gathering a Robin van Persie header following a well worked Dutch set piece. Australia were still in the ascendancy in terms of balance of play, but this dominance wasn’t set to last forever. A characteristic Robben run – similar to his earlier half-chance – tore the Socceroos’ defence to shreds, with defender Matthew Spiranovic caught in two minds whether to challenge Robben or stand his ground. Spiranovic opted to stay put, allowing Robben to drift into the area and flash a shot past Club Brugge shot-stopper Mat Ryan, putting the Dutch into an early lead. A wonderful goal, befitting of a player whose tournament so far has been nothing short of excellent.
Excellence was the buzz-word for this brief spurt in activity around the 20 minute mark of the game. As soon as the Netherlands finished celebrating Arjen Robben’s solo effort, it was the Aussies’ time to be sent into jubilation; after a few seconds of scrappy play in midfield, Mile Jedinak hoofed a long diagonal ball, reminiscent of Daley Blind’s for the Netherlands’ equaliser on Saturday, up into the area towards Tim Cahill, who made no mistake with a finish worthy of 3 points there and then. The former Everton man absolute leathered the ball with his weaker left foot straight past Cillessen, scraping the crossbar on its way in. Glorious stuff, and with the game all square at 1-1, the Socceroos were back in it.
The Socceroos were truly in the ascendancy. Not long after the goal, Mathew Leckie got his first real chance to stretch the legs, running down Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij before squaring the ball towards the edge of the penalty area. Mark Bresciano, perhaps surprised to be unmarked and receiving the ball in such a great position, leant back slightly and as such fired narrowly over Cillessen’s bar, but it was yet another great bit of player by the Socceroos who, by now, were clearly the team gunning for the lead. The Netherlands’ 5-3-2 system had, in a game where they were expected to dominate, slightly restricted them going forward, with their two front men, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, swamped by Australian shirts whenever they forayed out of their own half.
Matthew Spiranovic spurned another chance to put the Australians into the lead, receiving the ball from a set pieces unmarked, but failing to shape his body in the correct way and firing tamely into Cillessen’s outstretched arms. Not long after, however, the first real sour note of the game for both teams; a late challenge by Australia front man Tim Cahill led to his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he’ll miss the final group match against Spain – but, more importantly, quite badly injured Bruno Martins Indi, leaving him out of the rest of the game at hand, and perhaps more of the World Cup, too, leaving the field on a stretcher. Van Gaal used this opportunity to revert to four men at the back, Memphis Depay taking to the field on the stroke of half time to play as a winger in a 4-3-3 system, as replacement for the injured Martins Indi.
Australia came out all guns blazing in the second half, Tim Cahill having the ball in the net within minutes of kick off – but the goal was disallowed for a foul in the build-up. This was perhaps unfair on Cahill – a simple case of a forward outmuscling his defender, but nevertheless, there was no debate to be had with the ref, who had gone about stamping authority on the game. This was reinforced minutes later, when Robin van Persie received a yellow for a wild swipe at Australian centre back Spiranovic. This meant he became the second player of the game to be ruled out for the final group match, in his case against Chile.
Sneijder became the first Dutch player of the half to call Mat Ryan into action, but the Brugge man was equal to it, tipping wide excellently. Nothing came of the corner, and in what was a to-and-fro game, it was soon Australia’s turn to attack, earning a penalty as full back Daryl Janmaat handled in the box. Crystal Palace’s dead ball specialist and inspirational midfielder Mile Jedinak stepped up, and made no mistake from the spot, sending Jasper Cillessen the wrong way and his team into the lead.
This wasn’t to last, though; just as the Aussies had hit back quickly earlier, so did the Dutch, Robin van Persie smashing an effort home after being played onside by full back Jason Davidson’s lack of adherence to the defensive line Australia had employed. This took him level with Arjen Robben and Germany’s Thomas Müller in the goalscoring charts for the Cup so far, an achievement he’ll no doubt have appreciated – but only if the Netherlands could haul themselves back in front. After a brief scare; Mathew Leckie chesting into Cillessen’s arms when it looked easier to score; the Netherlands went right up the other end and, through a good strike from substitute Memphis Depay and an awful goalkeeping mistake by Mat Ryan, took the lead once more. It was just desserts for Depay, who had been excellent since coming on, but was incredibly unlucky for both Australia and Ryan himself, who had been generally excellent throughout the game.
With 20 minutes left, and having bucked the trend of conceding right after scoring, the Netherlands looked comfortable, with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder coming close once more. There was one more big chance – Mathew Leckie having a penalty shout turned down after being outmuscled by Daryl Janmaat; a late push aside, the Socceroos limped over the line, which was a real shame after the performance that they had had.
It was, however, an impressive performance by them – even if it has made hopes of qualification ebb away – but credit must be given to a Dutch side who, even with play going against them and not being on the top of their game, managed to edge out a victory against a vibrant and exciting side. While the result may not lead to as many people placing money on them winning the whole tournament as the 5-1 riot over Spain, it moves them one step closer to the final, with a place in the Round of 16 almost assured.
Player ratings (out of 10)
Mat Ryan – 5: Made some good saves, but fumbled Depay’s winner. Overall a learning curve for the Brugge man, who’ll come back better in 2018.
Ryan McGowan – 6: Was solid down Australia’s right hand side, but didn’t add much to the attacking play of the Aussies.
Alex Wilkinson – 7: Defended heroically at times, partnering Spiranovic excellently.
Matthew Spiranovic – 7: Might be blamed for the first goal – standing off Arjen Robben is a mistake, admittedly – but all round, an excellent performance by Spiranovic.
Jason Davidson – 5: A quiet game for Davidson, his only integral involvement in the game being playing Robin van Persie onside for him to make it 2-2.
Mile Jedinak – 8: An assured performance in the centre of midfield by the Crystal Palace man, assisting one and scoring the other to boot. Excellent.
Matt McKay – 7: Partnered Jedinak well, even having excellent moments of his own in chasing down the Dutch midfield and creating chances for his forwards. Together, they outshone Sneijder, de Jong and de Guzman.
Mathew Leckie – 7: Worked incredibly hard down the right hand side, and probably deserved a goal. Did however fade towards the end, giving the ball away a lot.
Mark Bresciano – 7: Was very important in the first half, bursting from midfield constantly, and providing the Australian attack with real impetus.
Tommy Oar – 6: Not as bad as he was against Chile, but added very little to the potency of the attack from an unfamiliar wide position. Did set up Leckie for an excellent chance which was ultimately spurned.
Tim Cahill – 8: Scored the goal of the tournament so far and had another unfairly disallowed, Tim Cahill was excellent, harrying the Dutch defence at every moment. It’s a blow he’ll miss the game versus Spain, meaning this was probably his final World Cup game at 34.
Oliver Bozanic – 5: Was anonymous after coming on for Bresciano just after half time.
Ben Halloran – 7: Attacked very well in his brief cameo, but his fellow attackers had faded too much by the time he was on to provide any real difference for the Socceroos.
Adam Taggart – 6: Didn’t really have enough time to change the game, but did miss a good chance with a few minutes to go.
Jasper Cillessen – 6: Did well when called upon – not saving THAT Cahill effort and a penalty is no real stain on a strong performance by Cillessen.
Ron Vlaar – 6: Only notable involvement was shouting at a rather placid Mathew Leckie, but didn’t put a foot wrong in defence.
Stefan de Vrij – 5: Not bad, but nowhere near as good as his performance versus Spain.
Bruno Martins Indi – 6: Was relatively solid until going off injured prior to half time.
Daryl Janmaat – 5: Gave away the penalty, probably could have given away another but for Leckie’s over-dramatics on the deck. Poor.
Daley Blind – 6: Didn’t hit the heights of his two assists against Spain, but that’s not an expectation – dealt with the threat of Leckie reasonably well.
Nigel de Jong – 7: the Netherlands‘ best player and midfield anchorman, de Jong prevented a lot of Australian attacks down the middle.
Jonathan de Guzman – 6: Continued to sleepwalk through his first tournament before being replaced by Wijnaldum with 10 minutes to go.
Wesley Sneijder – 6: As with de Guzman, Sneijder didn’t really look all there. Really not the same player as in 2010.
Arjen Robben – 8: The key man for the Dutch, scored the first goal and created a lot more besides.
Robin van Persie – 7: Finished off his chances well, but the dark side to his game was all too prominent at times.
Memphis Depay – 8: Scored the eventual winner – even if it was a bit fortuitous – and worked really well as part of the front 3.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 6: Didn’t have enough time to affect proceedings.
Jeremain Lens – 6: Didn’t have ANY time to affect proceedings.
Man of the Match
Mile Jedinak. While Tim Cahill’s performance should and will grab the headlines, Jedinak quietly sewed together defence and attack for the Socceroos, as well as assisting Cahill’s wonder goal and netting from the spot as well. It was the complete performance for the Crystal Palace midfielder – a player who the Aussies are very lucky to have. He even managed to keep Swindon’s Massimo Luongo from entering the fray!