Dutch and Chile to battle for Group B top spot
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Netherlands and Chile may have already qualified for the World Cup’s round of 16, but both still want to win Group B and avoid the likely prospect of facing host nation Brazil in their next match.
Two of the tournament’s early high-fliers meet on Monday at Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao Stadium with the Netherlands requiring only a draw to top the group thanks to superior goal difference.
“If you look ahead a bit, in theory you are better off than if you come second,” Netherlands captain Robin van Persie said.
In part, that is because Brazil should win Group A — it is currently top and faces already-eliminated Cameroon in its final match — and will be the opponent for the runner-up in Group B. However, Van Persie said there are other tough nations on the horizon for the second-placed team.
“I’d really like to play them,” he said of Brazil, “but a little bit later” in the tournament.
The group winner also gets an extra day of rest before its next match.
Van Persie, who has scored three goals so far, is suspended for the game against Chile after picking up a yellow card in both matches so far — the stunning 5-1 destruction of Spain and a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Australia.
Van Persie is confident he won’t be too badly missed, given the depth of the Dutch squad. PSV Eindhoven forward Memphis Depay came on as a substitute against Australia and provided an assist before scoring his first international goal for the match winner. Schalke striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who has scored 34 goals in 62 internationals, is also waiting in the wings.
“The boys for the front positions train fantastically,” Van Persie. “We have a lot of good players.”
One of them already has three strikes to his name in Brazil, lightning fast winger Arjen Robben.
“Robben is very fast and the team is playing well,” said Chile midfielder Francisco Silva. “To counter their speed we’ll have to have a balanced game and close spaces.”
The Netherlands could also be missing central defender Bruno Martins Indi, who suffered a concussion after a late challenge by Australia’s Tim Cahill sent him tumbling heavily to the turf.
There is speculation that Chile might not be at full strength, either.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli could bench Juventus star Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz, who scored one goal and set up the other in Chile’s 2-0 win against Spain.
Vidal, who underwent knee surgery last month and is still trying to regain his form, has hurt his right Achilles tendon, while Aranguiz has a minor sprain on his right knee. Both players also have a yellow card to their name.
In between beating Australia and Spain, Chile has clearly been studying the Dutch style of play — solid defense, pressure in midfield and passing quickly to their potent strike force.
“Based on what we saw, they’ll stay in the back, will try to press in the middle and, when they get the ball, will try to get it quickly to their strikers,” said Atalanta midfielder Carlos Carmona. “We have several days to work on ways to stop them from doing that.”
In good news for Dutch football purists, the Netherlands will pull on their traditional orange jerseys for the first time at this World Cup, having played in their blue away strip for the first two matches.
The Netherlands’ mantra ahead of its match against Australia — the lowest-ranked team at the tournament — was that the team would not underestimate the opponent. There’s no danger of underestimating Chile — a team ranked one place above the Dutch by FIFA.
“I saw bits of Chile against Spain and they looked very good. They looked fit, they looked strong, they played together,” Van Persie said. “So we’ve got a big task. It will be very hard to at least draw against them.”