This World Cup has been full of shocks and surprises, and last night very much continued in that vein. Having inflicted an upset of their own against Spain in their opening match, it was the Netherlands who almost found themselves on the receiving end last night. Australia looked a completely different side to the one that lost against Chile in their first game, more than matching Holland in the opening exchanges. It was Louis van Gaal’s men though who took the lead against the fun of play, the brilliant Arjen Robben, shaking free of the Australian defenders, before driving towards goal and slotting past Matthew Ryan.
If Holland expected to repeat their demolition of Spain, they were in for quite a surprise, Tim Cahill equalising for Australia in the most spectacular way. The former Evertonian hit a sweet volley, striking a ball with his left foot as it arrived over the shoulder. It was the little fancied Australia who talk the lead also, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, Mile Jedinak stepping up to emphatically convert a softly awarded penalty. Daryl Janmaat was adjudged to have handled an Oliver Bozanic cross despite there being no obvious intent.
Australia’s lead didn’t last much longer than Holland’s had though, Robin van Persie equalising with his 11th goal in his last 10 international games. Both side continued to have chances, but it was the favourites who went on to snatch the winner, goalkeeper Ryan making a real mess of PSV Eindhoven winger Memphis Depay’s tame curling effort.
In the day’s second match, all eyes were on Spain, with the current World Cup holders expected to fight back and disprove their critics after a shocking dismantling at the hands of Holland. It was not to be however, a missed scruffy opportunity by Xabi Alonso setting the tone for the rest of the game. Spain were given not a moments peace on the ball as the Chileans harassed and hounded Del Bosque’s men. The midfield was never allowed to settle into its usual tiki-taka fluidity, and it was Jorge Sampoali’s men that took the lead through Eduardo Vargas; an excellent improvised finish from an Aranguiz pass.
Chile’s pressing game, and superior athleticism stopped Spain carving out too many opportunities, and those which they did fashion were squandered by an utterly ineffectual Diego Costa. Tormented as a traitor by the locals, Costa was a liability at times for Spain, and never an asset, unable to escape the attentions of Chile’s back three. Charles Aranguiz added a second for Chile, tucking away following another blunder by Iker Casillas, who could only punch Alexis Sanchez’ free kick into the path of the goal scorer. Spain completely lacked any adaptability or even the hint of a Plan B, and it really does mark the end of an era for a side that had dominated world football for so long.
Cameroon’s World Cup had been marred before it began by disputes regarding win bonuses, but they look set leave Brazil without a win to their name anyway. Croatia on the other hand were unlucky not to take anything from their first match with Brazil, and quickly set about taking their frustrations out on Cameroon. Olic opened the scoring following excellent work by Ivan Perisic. Utterly dominant, the match was effectively ended as a contest before halftime with Barcelona’s Alex Song getting himself petulantly sent off. Shortly after halftime, Perisic added Croatia’s second, racing down on goal after Itandje’s awful goal kick. Croatia were not done there though, Mario Mandzukic headed in a third from a corner, before netting his second and Croatia’s fourth after an initial saved effort by Eduardo.
What’s the significance?
Victories for Chile and Holland put them both through to the next round, and ensured Australia and current World Cup holders Spain would be eliminated at the first possible opportunity. All that is left to be decided in Group B is who finish in first place, a tussle which will be settled in what promises to be an entertaining match up.
Croatia’s mauling of Cameroon saw the African side dumped out of the World Cup in an embarrassing manner, and sets up a tense encounter with Mexico, which has now become a second place playoff in Group A.
Tim Cahill’s wonderful volley has already drawn comparisons with Marco van Basten’s excellent strike in 1988, and although such assessments are rather hyperbolic, there is no questioning that the former Everton forward’s hit is one of the best goals in the World Cup so far and well worth frequent viewings.
Another notable incident was Alex Song’s farcical sending off. Frustrated by tussling with Mario Mandzukic, Song made the ridiculous to lash out at the Bayern Munich striker with a bizarre half elbow, half punch. It killed any chances Cameroon had of beating Croatia and was just thoughtless by Song.
Robben was the best player on the pitch during Holland against Australia, his direct running causing all sorts of problems for the Socceroos’ backline, as well as helping himself to a goal. Alexis Sanchez was also a menace last night, tormenting the Spanish defence and playing a part in both of Chile’s goals. The day’s star performer though was Mario Mandzukic, fresh from suspension, the Bayern Munich star put in an immense shift for Croatia, his close attentions provoking Song into being sent off, as well as netting twice to bury an hopes Cameroon had of progressing from the group.