By Stefan Coerts
If the stunning 5-1 win over Spain on Matchday 1 showed that Netherlands are a team to be reckoned with at the World Cup, Wednesday’s hard-fought 3-2 victory over Australia showed why they should not be regarded as the favourites.
The Dutch were outclassed by the Antipodean side for large periods of the first half and had no cause for complaints about the 1-1 scoreline at half-time following a well-taken Arjen Robben goal and a wonder strike by Tim Cahill.
Things only got worse after the break when Mile Jedinak converted a spot kick, but Louis van Gaal’s men eventually sneaked three points, despite their disappointing performance, as Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay turned matters around.
Although Robben and Van Persie again delivered on the big stage after previously impressing against Spain, it was substitute Depay who really made the difference for Netherlands in Porto Alegre.
The 20-year-old enjoyed a stellar season at PSV as he became first choice on the left wing following Dries Mertens’ departure to Napoli last summer - scoring 12 goals in 32 Eredivisie appearances and creating eight more – and is widely regarded as one of the best young attackers in Europe.
His fine performances were enough for Van Gaal to give the winger an opportunity to prove himself in the World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2013 and in several friendlies after that, sufficiently impressing to make Holland’s final squad for this summer’s showpiece.
He initially wasn’t expected to get much playing time in Brazil due to the stiff competition for places from Jeremain Lens and Dirk Kuyt, but Van Gaal decided to take a gamble when Bruno Martins Indi was forced to leave the pitch due to injury shortly before half-time and brought on the PSV wonderkid – and it was a call he will not regret.
Depay caused havoc immediately, showing the willingness to take on his direct opponent at every opportunity he got, forcing the Australia defence to stay on their toes.
Yet there was nothing Ange Postecoglou’s men could do to stop Depay when he received the ball from Robben on the edge of the area around the hour mark. The PSV youngster showed his vision with a superb through ball for Van Persie, who struck home to level the scores moments after Australia had moved into the lead for the first time.
There was more to come from the promising attacker, however, as he made it 3-2 only seconds after Australia had come close to going once more hitting the front.
When Matthew Leckie failed to beat Jasper Cillessen from close range after a cross from the left, the Dutch broke quick and Depay found the net with a powerful long range strike that goalkeeper Maty Ryan probably should have pushed wide.
That’s not to take anything away from Depay’s match-winning display, however, as the youngster confirmed his status as one of the stars of the future.
He will likely have to settle for a spot on the bench again in the final group stage game against Chile, but there’s little doubt that the winger has not played his final World Cup cameo.
They often say stars are made at the biggest stage and Depay is the latest young gun to have presented himself to a big audience at the World Cup.