Netherlands, Chile battle to avoid hosts

- Reuters, Sao Paulo

Jun 22, 2014-

With the loser likely to face hosts Brazil in the next round, the Netherlands and Chile will go all out for victory when they meet in their Group B match on Monday, even though both teams are through to the last 16.

While coaches studiously avoid discussing anything but the next game, what lies ahead adds a tantalising twist to a contest between European thoroughbreds and a Chile team that has surpassed expectations by ousting champions Spain. That 2-0 win at the Maracana Stadium in Rio sent shockwaves through the tournament and will ensure that the Netherlands take their opponents seriously when they meet in Sao Paulo.

Robin van Persie, who like fellow striker Arjen Robben is joint top scorer in Brazil with three goals, was impressed with what he saw of the South American opponents. “They looked fit and they play together,” Van Persie said. “I think that four or five players made Spain’s life very hard. So we’ve got a big task,” added the forward, who will miss the clash after picking up two yellow cards in the first two matches.

His absence is a blow to the Dutch, whose 5-1 destruction of Spain in the opening game was followed by a far less convincing 3-2 win over Australia, who are out. But in Jeremiah Lens, favourite to replace him up front, the Netherlands have a forward who shone in the buildup to Brazil, scoring five goals in nine qualifying matches.

Bruno Martins Indio, who was hospitalised after suffering concussion against Australia, returned to training on Friday. The Dutch have a slight edge, in that a draw will see them top the group on superior goal difference.

That could encourage coach Louis van Gala, who will join Van Perseid at Manchester United next season, to opt for the more defensive 5-3-2 formation which he adopted at times in both the Spanish and Australian games. But the neutrals will be hoping to see the more attacking 4-3-3 set-up that has produced breathtaking football at times reminiscent of the national side in its 1970s pomp.

For Chile, the main concern going into the match is the fitness of midfielders Charles Aranguiz and Arturo Vidal. Aranguiz, who scored against Spain on Wednesday, was substituted in the 64th minute, and Vidal, who had knee surgery last month, came off near the end. Both players are also on a yellow card, meaning that another booking would see them miss the last 16 clash.

Vidal was singled out for his masterful display against Spain, pulling the strings behind forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vagrants, although the team as a whole pressed hard and launched a series of rapid-fire counter-attacks. Chile’s football chief Sergio Jade said he was hopeful both players would be available.

Chile’s best result at a World Cup came on home soil in 1962, when they finished third after losing to Brazil. In France (1998) and South Africa (2010) they reached the last 16, only to exit at the hands of Brazil on both occasions. Coming top of Group B, and avoiding this year’s hosts, would appear to be a priority.

Published: 23-06-2014 09:03

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