Avoiding Brazil makes São Paolo encounter far from dead rubber
Chile and Netherlands made light work of progressing to knockout stages
Memphis Depay: could be rewarded with a start after his goal against Australia.
When the World Cup draw was made back in December, Group B was one of the candidates for the dreaded ‘group of death’ tag. But rather than finding themselves in the fight of their lives Chile and the Netherlands have made relatively light work of progressing to the knockout stages, each securing qualification with a game to spare.
When both teams comprehensively dismantled world champions Spain, talk of them as potential title contenders grew. But the fact both are already looking beyond it means their clash today in São Paulo is unlikely to provide a full examination of supposed title credentials.
That is not to say the match is a dead rubber. Though Brazil have failed to convince in their two matches so far both the Dutch and Chileans will no doubt play under the assumption that the hosts will maintain their immaculate record against African nations at World Cups when they take on the rabble masquerading as Cameroon later in the evening.
That means the likeliest reward for the winner will be to avoid meeting Brazil in a second-round clash in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.
Thanks to their superior goal difference the Dutch hold the advantage of knowing a draw will see them top the group.
But though better placed the Dutch arguably have more to ponder going into the game than a settled Chilean group that has been playing together longer. Holland’s 5-1 defeat of Spain was the first result to signal that this would be a dramatic tournament from the get-go. But for periods before Robin van Persie’s equaliser and the champion’s subsequent collapse, the Dutch had struggled. Even after the enormous tonic of their eventual win they returned to making life difficult for themselves against the willing but limited Australians.
The problem area has proved to be the young and inexperienced backline that left many Dutch fans pessimistic about making a major impact on the tournament before their team started it in such style. Against Chile Louis van Gaal will be forced to retool his defence with defender Bruno Martins Indi out for at least a week after he was hospitalised following his collision with Tim Cahill.
The problem for Van Gaal is that while he has options up front this is not true at the back and without Indi he might drop the 5-3-2 he started the first two games and go with a flat back four for lack of a reliable companion for Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar in central defence, with Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind, one of the revelations of the tournament so far, operating as more orthodox full backs. The experienced Nigel de Jong will likely continue in his key role of protector of this young backline.
The Dutch will also have to make a change to an attack that has been the tournament’s most exciting so far, with eight goals in just two games. The author of three of them, Van Persie, is suspended after a getting a second yellow card against Australia. That could see Jeremain Lens get a start after coming on for him twice as a substitute. The exciting winger Memphis Depay has a chance of being rewarded with a starting role for the goal he scored after coming on as a substitute against Australia.
Whatever formation he starts with Van Gaal has showed a willingness to switch mid-match having used three different formations during the game against Australia. There are likely to be more such adjustments from the bench against Chile.
Despite the confidence flowing through the squad after its victory over Spain, history teaches Chile that it should try everything to win the group and avoid a likely second-round clash with Brazil. On the three previous occasions the country has reached the knockout stages of the World Cup it has been eliminated by Brazil, the last two times – 1998 and 2010 – in the second round.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli appears to be heeding the lesson and is set to name the same team that defeated Spain, refusing to protect players on a yellow card, among them playmaker Arturo Vidal who will not be rested despite only recently returning from knee surgery.
Chile’s biggest doubt is over midfielder Charles Aránguiz who scored one of his side’s two goals against Spain. He suffered a knock to his right knee and has not fully trained since the Spain game. If unfit he will be replaced by Felipe Gutiérrez.