The Netherlands and Chile will fight it out for top spot in Group B Monday and hope they can avoid a fearsome round two assignment against five-time World Cup winners Brazil.
Both teams have won their opening two games, putting them into the last 16 with a maximum six points each and sending reigning champions Spain and Australia crashing out. Only goal-difference separates the two, with the Netherlands narrowly top following their 5-1 win over Spain and 3-2 scrap against Australia.
Brazil are favoured to qualify top in Group A, meaning they will face whoever finishes second in Group B — a match-up neither the Netherlands nor Chile will relish. But with the outcome of Group A, where Brazil, Mexico and Croatia are separated by just one point, far from clear, Group B’s winners could still end up facing the hosts. It is a complicating factor that neither the Netherlands nor Chile will want to dwell on before Monday’s game at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.
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Arjen Robben clocked 37 kilometres (23 miles) per hour, a record for a footballer, as he inspired the Netherlands’ deconstruction of short-passing Spain. But it remains to be seen if the Bayern Munich flyer will again hit the heights in Monday’s run-out, effectively a precursor for the knock-out challenges ahead.
Robben and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie have lit up this World Cup with three goals each and more will be needed if the Netherlands are to reach their second final in a row.
Coach Louis van Gaal, who will link up with Van Persie at Old Trafford next season, will be looking for more solidity after some distinctly worrying moments against Australia. Against one of the tournament’s least fancied teams, the Netherlands were trailing 2-1 early in the first half before Van Persie and Memphis Depay spared their blushes.
Meanwhile, Australia take on Spain in a rather inconsequential tie.Despite Australia already having been eliminated from the World Cup, the Socceroos all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill believes Australian football can take a huge step forward with victory over dethroned world champions Spain Monday.
Both sides hopes of progression to the last 16 have been ended by successive defeats to Chile and the Netherlands, but whilst Spain have endured a nightmare defence of their title in Brazil, Australia have taken huge encouragement from their performances.
Ange Postecoglou’s men had led the Dutch in the second-half in their last outing thanks to a wonder strike from Cahill and Mile Jedinak’s penalty before being eventually losing 3-2.
Cahill will miss the match in Curitiba having picked up his second yellow card of the tournament in that match, but has backed his teammates to make history. “We’ve got one more game to go and it is not about Tim Cahill,” said the New York Red Bulls forward.
“This last game is massive. If we beat Spain that will be one of the biggest moments in Australian history.” Australia had arrived in Brazil as the lowest ranked side in the tournament, but far from being intimated by their moreillustrious opponents they impressively took the game to Chile and the Netherlands in their two outings so far. And captain Jedinak is determined to bow out with something to show for their performances.
“It’s going to be up to us again to go out there and get something out of the Spanish, and try to force our game on them,” he said. “We’ve done that in both of those games and although we haven’t come away with anything it’s time we make that right.”