In a group that has already accounted for World Cup holders Spain, it is the Netherlands and Chile who go into their final game assured of a place in the round-of-16 and ready to battle it out for top spot. Both teams produced contenders for performance of the World Cup so far to oust the champions, while backing it up with closer-than-expected wins over impressive underdogs Australia. Although the Netherlands and Chile have already achieved their primary objectives of getting out of one of the competition’s toughest groups, neither will be in the mood to take their foot off the gas in Sao Paulo. Securing first place in Group B means avoiding the winners from Group A, likely to be hosts and favorites to lift the trophy, Brazil.
To that end, it is the Dutch who hold the advantage, courtesy of a better goal difference garnered from a stunning 5-1 win over Spain. A draw and the Netherlands finish top; Chile need to win. However, such permutations are unlikely to greatly impact the manner in which the teams go about their business. In a World Cup that has surprised and thrilled for its attacking play, the Netherlands and Chile have been two of the standard-bearers.
The Netherlands will be forced into a change of personnel, though, for their final group game, which is likely to see coach Louis van Gaal shifting the team’s shape. Joint-leading goalscorer in the competition to date, Robin van Persie, will be forced to sit out through suspension. Van Persie may be in great form, but his understudy, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, with an international record of 34 goals in 62 appearances, is hardly a bad replacement.
The probable absence of Bruno Martins Indi, who suffered a concussion in the 3-2 win over Australia on Wednesday, will likely convince Van Gaal to switch his formation. The 3-5-2 worked a treat in helping to press Spain in midfield in their opening game but was less successful against an Australia side who occupied all three Dutch center-backs and exploited the space in behind them. A switch to the more traditional Dutch 4-3-3 shaped was made at half-time, with Memphis Depay coming on and scoring one goal, assisting another and helping the Netherlands to get the win. It is likely to be that shape which Van Gaal opts for on Monday.
Interestingly, Chile have taken the opposite route in this competition. A 4-4-2 in their opening game against Australia wasn’t a particular success due to their advanced full-backs and deep-dropping center-backs. Coach Jorge Sampaoli then reverted to his favored formation against Spain to far more success, with it allowing Chile to press their opponents relentlessly in midfield en route to a 2-0 win.
This, though, was a slightly different Chile. Since Marcelo Bielsa led them to the 2010 World Cup, Chile have earned a reputation and widespread acclaim for being the world’s most attacking team. It could be utterly thrilling, but it also all too often failed to garner the results the quality of their play perhaps warranted. In the last World Cup they also played Spain and produced a thrilling spectacle, but lost 2-1. In qualifying last October, Chile led 3-0 against Colombia before, admittedly hampered by a sending off, they shipped three late goals. And, in one of their pre-World Cup friendlies, they went 2-0 down early to Egypt before mounting a comeback.
Against Spain this time around, there was a new sense of control and maturity about their play. They managed the game, rather than simply haring forward at full speed at every opportunity. Sure, there was still plenty of that pace both with and without the ball, but the defensive line sat deeper and the wing-backs were more cautious on occasion to make the team more compact.
It boded well for Chile to be not just neutrals’ favorites this time around, but a genuine contender to go deep into the tournament. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said when the draw was made that the team he wanted to avoid playing most in the round of 16 was Chile. He has even more reason to fear them now, although Chile will hope to ensure that if the two South American nations do meet, it is not until the final.
Prediction: Chile will be keen to get their two forwards, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, both of whom are wingers by trade, in behind the Netherlands’ attacking full-backs. At the other end, Arjen Robben will pose a major threat to getting in behind Chile’s defensive line if it creeps up too high. Likely to play wide right in a front three, the Bayern Munich man could also exploit any space in behind wing-back Eugenio Mena. Meanwhile, the midfield battle will be intense, with both trios looking to press intensely. Goals look a certainty, though which way they will go is far harder to call in what should be a to-and-fro battle.
Netherlands 1-2 Chile
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
Netherlands win: 8/5
Chile win: 8/5
When and where: The 2014 World Cup Group B match will kick off from the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo at noon ET.