The Oranje clinched top spot in Group B with a 2-0 victory over Chile which proved they have the flexibility to win games however necessaryBy Kris Voakes at Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
First, they thrilled against Spain. Then it was their spirit that shone through as they saw off Australia. Now, Netherlands have shown they can win games with pragmatism too.
If the World Cup is to be won by a team that can chisel out a result no matter what situation they find themselves in, then why not Louis van Gaal’s durable Dutch?
They began the clash with Chile at the Arena Corinthians with a five-man back line that spent most of the first half squeezing any kind of space for Jorge Sampaoli’s more attack-minded outfit. A 2-0 victory seemed highly unlikely in those opening moments.
While Alexis Sanchez occasionally threatened, not once was Jasper Cillessen forced into a save, and it was Arjen Robben who had the best chance of the first half, beating two men before dragging a shot across goal.
Van Gaal had warned the world not to expect ‘Total Football’ on the eve of the match.
“We are not playing the attacking football that we ordinarily play,” he told a press conference on Sunday. “It’s funny that Brazilians call it attacking football. The Dutch media need to be convinced! It’s about developing tactics that fit the players you have at your disposal.”
By half-time it was clear there was more in the match for the Oranje if they opened up and went for it, and Van Gaal switched his side into a 4-3-3 formation after the break. It immediately reaped dividends.
A side which had passed the ball on fewer occasions than Chile defender Gary Medel alone in the opening 45 minutes suddenly had much more possession and the South Americans always looked likely to wilt at some point.
They finally did in the 78th minute, with Leroy Fer heading home Daryl Janmaat’s cross having only just replaced Wesley Sneijder.
Fer’s impact not only topped off a tactical masterstroke by Van Gaal, but also proved further that this Netherlands side has much deeper quality than many first suspected.
To add to the match-changing performances of Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi et al in their previous matches, the Dutch got a helping hand from another unsung hero to take maximum points from their group fixtures.
Memphis Depay added an injury-time clincher to ram home the strength in depth argument after sprinting forward to give support to Robben’s excellent break from a Chile corner. The Bayern wide man and Robin van Persie are the stars of this squad, but by no means are they all they have to offer.
Van Gaal will be more than satisfied with the way things have gone, but will also be keenly aware that they still have much to do. While some doubted whether they would even qualify from the group, they have instead sailed through it.
As they head for the serious stuff to come, they look as well set-up as any country so far to have a real say in the latter stages.
As Van Gaal had promised, it was no ‘Total Football’ that saw off Chile, but it had a bit of everything. The Dutch have it in them to make a real impact in this tournament.Follow Kris Voakes on