Australia v Netherlands
Russell Degnan

Another match in which the commentators have fallen over themselves to praise Australia for their ability to concede easily, while looking occasionally threatening. The Netherlands set up in a similar formation to that used against Spain, and it led to exactly the sort of frenetic long-passing game predicted. The down-side for Australia is that leaving, as Michael Cox noted, "a series of 1 v 1 battles all over the pitch", played into the hands of the Dutch strengths: van Persie's skill and Robben's pace, and a lost-ball and missed lunge was sufficient for an early concession.

Netherlands playing five at the back also made it theoretically more difficult for crosses to find their mark, but Cahill came up with something remarkable to immediately equalise. His play in the two games making you wonder if his career in the midfield has wasted a natural number-9, good at getting on crosses and holding the ball up.

Unlike Spain, conceding Australia possession is dangerous, as they put numbers forward and have pace on the wings. Australia should have scored with Bresciano, and later Leckie - though that was on the break. Those chances are ones Australia can ill-afford to waste, especially as defensive errors continue to haunt.

The Dutch switched formation and had more of the ball, particularly Sneijder and Depay, the latter knocking a simple ball to an Persie when he was played onside and scoring from distance when not shut down.

All told, Australia scored two relatively fortunate goals - a brilliant volley, but don't count on it, and a penalty - and conceded three from sloppy back play against a side who could afford to wait for those opportunities, and knew they could take them. As good as it looks to be streaming forward, there is a naivety in Australia's approach; a looseness that allows good teams to cut them apart, and there aren't any sides in this world cup with the quality to overcome conceding two soft goals (or more) per match.

Spain lacked any of their usual verve and movement against Chile, but it would surprise if they can't find something for this game. If so, Australia will offer them plenty of small openings, and a blowout is entirely possible. Their lack of pace can be exploited though, and Australia has shown glimpses of quality in this world cup. It would be out of character for them to leave anything on the park.

Football 21st June, 2014 17:22:44   [#]