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Dutch survive severe scare after thriller against Australia

Robin van Persie to miss final Group B game after picking up second yellow card

Australia’s Tim Cahill fires home a left-footed volley in the World Cup Group B clash against the Netherlands at Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Netherlands 3 Australia 2

Louis van Gaal had complained beforehand about his view from the dugout but for much of this extraordinary game the Dutch manager must have wished that he was unable to see anything. Australia, the lowest ranked team at the World Cup, gave his side one hell of a scare and could count themselves bitterly unlucky to leave Porto Alegre with nothing to show for their efforts.

Ange Postecoglou’s players were magnificent. Inspired by Tim Cahill, whose breathtaking first-half volley is an early contender for goal of the tournament, Australia played without fear and made life far more uncomfortable for the Netherlands than Van Gaal and his players could have imagined.

The game was within Australia’s grasp when Mile Jedinak put them 2-1 ahead early in the second half from the penalty spot but Robin van Persie’s equaliser quickly brought the Dutch back into the game. Then came the turning point. Moments after Mathew Leckie had come desperately close to restoring Australia’s lead, Dutch substitute Memphis Depay thumped a swerving shot that Mathew Ryan seemed to have covered only for the ball to find the corner of the net via the Australia goalkeeper’s fingertips. It was desperately cruel.

For the Netherlands, the overwhelming emotion at the final whistle was one of relief. This was a reality check after the thumping of Spain in Salvador. The Dutch are now within touching distance of the knockout stage, although they will have to do without Van Persie in their final group game, against Chile, after their captain picked up his second booking of the tournament. On another day he could have been dismissed.

Postecoglou had promised that Australia would take the game to their opponents and he was true to his word. Pressing high up the field to deny the Dutch the chance to play out from the back, Australia sought to dictate the tempo right from the outset. They were a joy to watch at times, as they moved the ball around with confidence and attacked down the flanks, in particular on the right, where Leckie caused no end of problems in the opening 45 minutes.

Yet it was the Netherlands who took the lead, completely against the run of play and via a predictable source. Daley Blind’s header released Arjen Robben on the halfway line and the Bayern Munich forward skipped away from Matthew Spiranovic’s wild and desperate lunge. There was only going to be one winner and one outcome. Going through the gears in the inside left channel, Robben sprinted into the area and drilled a low left-footed shot across goal and into the far corner of the net.

What followed next was truly remarkable but no more than Australia deserved. Ryan McGowan, picking up possession midway inside the Dutch half, after Leckie had helped the ball on, floated a perfectly weighted 40-yard diagonal pass into the path of Cahill. The former Everton midfielder watched the ball come over his shoulder before striking a sumptuous first-time left-footed volley that clipped the underside of the bar and bounced over the line. It was a moment of brilliance.

The Netherlands, who had taken the lead only 70 seconds earlier, looked shellshocked and were fortunate not to concede again before half-time. Mark Bresciano wafted Leckie’s cut-back over the bar and Spiranovic, totally unmarked in the Dutch penalty area, failed to make decent contact with Tommy Oar’s free-kick.

The only sour note for Australia in the first half was the booking that Cahill picked up for a late and dangerous challenge on Bruno Martins Indi, forcing the Dutch defender to leave the field on a stretcher. Memphis Depay came on in his place and Van Gaal switched from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3. Not that it made much difference. Australia just kept coming and six minutes into the second half they had a second.

Oliver Bozanic, who had only just replaced Bresciano, crossed from the left and the ball struck Daryl Janmaat on his arm. It did not look intentional but the contact was clear and Djamel Haimoudi, the Algerian referee, pointed straight to the spot. Jedinak, sending Jasper Cillessen the wrong way, did the rest.

Within five minutes, however, the Netherlands were level. Depay fed Van Persie, who was played onside by Jason Davidson, the Australia left back, and the Manchester United striker smashed an angled shot from 12 yards into the roof of the net. Van Persie, however, could easily have seen red moments later. Already on a booking, he caught Jedinak late, prompting an angry reaction from several of the Australia players. Haimoudi kept his card in his pocket.

Then came the defining moment in the game. Australia could, and should, have gone 3-2 up but Leckie, arriving just in front of ball, could only chest Oar’s cross into the arms of Cillessen. In the blink of an eye, Depay was striding forward at the other end and, after space opened up in front of him, the Dutchman drilled a swerving shot from 25 yards that Ryan was unable to keep out.

NETHERLANDS: 1 Jasper Cillessen; 7 Daryl Janmaat, 2 Ron Vlaar, 3 Stefan de Vrij, 4 Bruno Martins Indi (21 Memphis Depay, 45 mins), 5 Daley Blind; 8 Jonathan de Guzman (20 Georginio Wijnaldum, 78 mins), 6 Nigel de Jong; 10 Wesley Sneijder; 9 Robin van Persie (17 Jeremain Lens, 87 mins), 11 Arjen Robben. Yellow card: Van Persie.

AUSTRALIA: 1 Mat Ryan; 19 Ryan McGowan, 22 Alex Wilkinson, 6 Matthew Spiranovic, 3 Jason Davidson; 15 Mile Jedinak, 17 Matthew McKay; 7 Matthew Leckie, 23 Mark Bresciano (13 Oliver Bozanic, 51 mins), 11 Tommy Oar (9 Adam Taggart, 77 mins); 4 Tim Cahill (10 Ben Halloran, 69 mins). Yellow card: Cahill.

(Guardian Service)