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article imageHolland squeak past Australia as van Gaal sticks to his script

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 18, 2014 in Sports
In the first half, Holland looked like a shade of the side that thrashed Spain. Louis van Gaal’s side created very few chances and was pulled into a battle with group minnows –– a label that was awarded based on overall talent –– Australia.
Here, Holland’s battle presented a contrasting test, as Ange Postecoglou’s side wasn’t keen on dominating possession, nor maintaining a high defensive line. Van Gaal’s men posed a threat on the break, but were unable to match their display against Spain.
The battle in midfield was enticing, with Wesley Sneijder pressing Miles Jedinak, while Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman tracked Matt McKay and Mark Bresciano. Australia, however, found space in wide areas as Mathew Leckie and Tommy Oar broke into space behind Holland’s wingbacks.
With van Gaal’s men preventing Australia from playing out of the back, Postecoglou’s side pounced on defensive errors, while runners from midfield broke into advanced positions. This was logical as it alleviated pressure off of Tim Cahill, who was left in a 3v1 situation upfront. It was Leckie who isolated Holland’s centrebacks before playing the ball to Bresciano, but on two occasions the Australian failed to test Jasper Cillessen.
Van Gaal’s men attempted to play long-balls over Australia’s defence, and into the advanced Daley Blind, but Holland’s overall buildup play was underwhelming. Similar to Australia, their best chances stemmed from defensive errors. First, it was de Jong dispossessing Bresciano, thus leading to Sneijder igniting a 3v2 break, but his poor ball towards Robben halted the play.
Robben made amends for Sneijder’s poor pass minutes later following Alex Wilkinson’s defensive lapse, and the Holland forward drove into the box before placing his shot past goalkeeper Matthew Ryan. Holland’s lead lasted 70 seconds, though, as Tim Cahill peeled towards the back post and perfectly volleyed Ryan McGowan’s cross off the crossbar and into the net to level the score line.
Van Gaal was forced into a tactical change in the second half, and Memphis Depay replaced the injured Bruno Martins Indi. Van Gaal reverted to his preferred 4-3-3, and this enabled the Dutch to sustain possession, and peg the Australian’s deeper into their third.
Depay provided a spark in the final third down the left flank, isolating McGowan and playing an integral role in Holland’s comeback. First he slid an incisive pass to van Persie for the equalizer, and then his audacious effort from 30-yards out slithered past Ryan to give Holland the lead.
Australia pushed forward in the final 20 minutes for an equalizer, but they lacked conviction in the final third and were lucky not to concede more goals as they left large gaps available for van Gaal’s men to exploit on the break. Postecoglou’s substitutions didn’t offer an equivalent threat, and the Australian manager was forced to watch his side crash out of the World Cup.
"I put pressure on the players and the staff to go and get at the big teams," Postecoglou said.
"But today they did that and they didn't get a reward. It's heartbreaking.”
Depay’s introduction was influential, but defensive errors was the main theme in this match. Midfield runners and Australia’s wide players tormented Holland’s back-line, but as the game progressed their threat in the final third decreased. Van Gaal’s attack lacked variety, and against an organized side that defends deep, Holland looked relatively average.
"I'm not relieved, because I believe in the second half we played better than Australia,” Van Gaal said.
"In the first half they played better, but in the second half we had five, six, seven chances.”
Van Gaal exploited Spain’s weaknesses in a remarkable manner, but he’ll need to rely on more than individual brilliance and defensive errors in the latter stages of the competition.
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