Louis van Gaal’s Holland side only require the very minimum to prise open rival defences and Australia’s was no exception to the rule in today’s second Group B outing. Van Gaal has transformed Holland into a group of workmen who carry out their duties to the last word of their chief architects – Robben and van Persie. If the most archaic form of playing football consists of defending exclusively so that the star players can shine, then van Gaal’s team are simple and effective as that. There is no blueprint, no room for improvisation or style to adhere to. It’s football straight out of the school patio – you give the ball to the better ones to resolves the game. But it works. Today, with more unease than against Spain the other day, it worked once again. The Socceroos dominated and left a good impression, with Cahill in scintillating form.
The idea of holding back to hit their rivals on the counter attack exposed a few chinks in van Gaal’s defence. Any of the teams involved in this World Cup, Australia included, can cause damage when they’re on the attack. That was demonstrated by Mathew Leckie, a right winger who turns out for a team in Germany’s second tier, who was allowed to perforate the Dutch defence time and time again. Australia were the only side capable of creating anything out on the pitch at the Beiro-Rio stadium although that in itself carried the risk of falling right into van Gaal’s masterplan. The first counter-break was instigated by Robben who, after covering the length of the Australian half, beat Matthew Ryan with a low, diagonal strike to put Holland ahead.
The lead lasted just seconds. Tim Cahill’s riposte – connecting superbly with a lofted ball to send a volley crashing in under the crossbar was the most stunning goal we’ve seen at Brazil 2014 – a goal of such beauty, it was a cross between Zidane’s winner at the 2002 Champions League final and Marco van Basten’s glorious strike against USSR at EURO 88.
Bruno Martins injury forced van Gaal into reverting to 4-3-3 and to forget all about their brilliant opening performance against Spain. Not that much changed after that – Australia maintained control and Holland, the keg of gunpowder. Jedinak gave the Socceroos the lead from the penalty spot after Janmaat had handled but the euphoria lasted only until van Persie restored parity, blasting into the roof of the net four minutes later and was doused completely when Depay struck a long range winner which the keeper ought to have saved. That’s Holland for you and with Robben and van Persie in such magnificent form, they’ll be few teams to stop them.