The Socceroos have almost pulled off one of the greatest World Cup upsets in history in a thrilling encounter with the Dutch in Porto Alegre.
The Netherlands effectively eliminated Australia from the tournament with their 3-2 win.
But it was another Socceroos performance full of gumption, guts and tremendous spirit. Australia fell behind in the first half, after bossing the Dutch around the park, but hit back with two goals to take the lead with 36 minutes left.
The Netherlands equalized just a handful of minutes later and scored their third on 68 minutes. The Socceroos huffed and puffed to score their own equalizer, but couldn’t find another goal as the Dutch pushed forward for their fourth.
It was another loss for Australia, their second of the World Cup, but this was a performance that enthralled the neutrals and made the football world sit up and take notice, even more so than the match against Chile. Australia is a player in the world of the round ball and not to be underestimated any longer.
The Socceroos went into the game without Ivan Franjic. A hamstring injury ruled him out and makeshift right back Ryan McGowan came into replace him. Ange Postecoglou also pulled a surprise – with Mark Milligan unavailable to play due to injury Postecoglou selected Matt McKay, and not James Holland as many had expected, to start as his second defensive midfielder. It signaled Australia’s intent to get forward and attack the Dutch as much as possible.
And that intent was clear from kick-off. Unlike against the Chileans, when several of the Socceroos seemed to freeze in the World Cup limelight, the green and gold got off to a blistering start.
The nerves seem to have gone, the ball retention improved and the Dutch were rattled. They were off the game and slow to get into gear, while Australia found some early rthymn. This was a clear contrast compared with La Roja in Cuiaba.
The Socceroos pressed high and hard, finding success by closing the Dutch down at speed.
But on 19 minutes it mattered little – Mark Bresciano played a poor pass and then Alex Wilkinson was caught in possession. Arenj Robben was away and does what Arenj Robben does best, neatly striding towards goal and calmly stroking the ball past the goalkeeper under pressure.
Oh for the availability of Aussie defenders Curtis Good, Rhys Williams and Trent Sainsbury.
If Aussie hearts were sinking at 1-0, then it didn’t last long. Seconds later and the Socceroos were square. Virtually from the kick-off Bresciano found Matthew Leckie, who crossed for Cahill who unleashed a sweet left-foot volley in off the underside of the bar. 1-1. In seconds Tim Cahill had done it again.
A strike that was one of the best in this World Cup so far, the Socceroos highest-ever goal scorer showed he can not just finish with his head, but that he’s pretty handy with his feet as well.
The Dutch were shocked after this and the Aussies pushed forward. Bresciano was working his magic and Spiranovic got a foot to a free-kick, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Dutch keeper.
Leckie was finding space and the Socceroos were flying. A crude challenge by Cahill meant a yellow card for him – he will miss the Spain game – and the unfortunate end of the match for Holland’s Martins Indi.
Half-time came as relief for the Dutch but not for the Australians, who clearly had the upper hand.
After the break the Dutch were revitalized and more focused, but it was the Socceroos who quickly went ahead. Oliver Bozanic, who came on at 51 minutes for Bresciano, quickly won a penalty after his cross hit the arm of a Dutch defender.
Mile Jedinak strided up to the spot and coolly slotted it. 2-1 to Australia and the green and gold dared to dream.
The Oranje reaction was swift and merciless. Four minutes later the score was tied again as Jason Davidson played on Robin Van Persie, who beat the offside trap and beat Matt Ryan to score.
The Socceroos almost went ahead again on 67 minutes, with Leckie tormenting the Dutch and trying to chest in a hard cross from Tommy Oar, but it was the Dutch who were clinical. They went the full field straight from that chance and Depay hit a sweet shot that Ryan couldn’t stop. The Club Brugge keeper got his hands to the ball but couldn’t parry it enough, one that he will probably think he could have done better with on reflection.
Football is a cruel game.
Now 3-2 ahead and the momentum had swung back in the favour of the Dutch. The pressing and endless running in the early afternoon sun seem to catch up with the Socceroos.
The Oranje surged ahead and were unlucky not to claim a fourth goal.
Postecoglou turned to his bench, first bringing on Ben Halloran for Cahill, and then Adam Taggart for Tommy Oar, but it was to no avail.
Leckie went down in the penalty box in the 79th minute but no penalty, which was the right call, was given.
The Socceroos then had a series of free kicks near the Dutch box but none bore fruit.
In injury time a great save from Ryan stopped another goal for the Oranje. But with time running out 3-2 the score stayed, the Dutch escaping with the win after getting the fright of their lives.
The Socceroos were unafraid of the Dutch and improved on their showing against Chile. Some poor defending allowed their opponents into the game and shipping six goals in two games ultimately shows where Australia’s current weakness lies.
But again, the Socceroos played without fear and competed with one of the best teams in the world. Our national team under Postecoglou is taking shape. Pride and attacking verve is becoming its hallmark.
The Socceroos may have lost in the World Cup – again – but it won respect today and surely captured the hearts of the big brown land.
They walk away from Porto Alegre having deserved a draw. They will be disappointed, heart-broken but proud. The Socceroos lost another battle but surely they are winning the war.
By John Davidson
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