There was frustration and even anger in the comments of Jorge Sampaoli, his players and Sergio Jadue, president of the ANFP in the aftermath. La Roja stuck to their intention, to the only way they know how to play, to attack. Yet, it was the Dutch in a defensive 5-3-2 formation who looked the more likely to score throughout the match with Arjen Robben in typically electric form.
The Bayern Munich winger sent a shot agonisingly past the post in the first half after beating four Chileans before he wrapped up the game by racing away to set up Memphis Depay after Leroy Fer had put the Dutch in the lead.
In the aftermath of the game Chilean representatives lined up to criticise the Dutch’s tactics, their rough style of play and the Gambian referee with Jadue particularly unprofessional, bordering on embarrassing, when he suggested someone from the African nation should have not taken charge of such a crucial game at the World Cup. Aren’t they all crucial?
But when it came down to it the Dutch did not need to win. Their obliteration of Spain gave them the upper hand in goal difference, so they were content in knowing that they simply needed to pick up a point. And as Louis Van Gaal laid his head on his pillow on Monday night he would not have lost any sleep from Jorge Sampaoli’s comments.
In the pre-match press conference Sampaoli paid tribute to Van Gaal and the Dutchman’s success and experience. He used that experience to keep Chile at bay and leave them spineless in attack with La Roja’s best chances coming from set pieces.
Netherlands set their intentions out from the start as they allowed Chile’s back three to have possession, keeping all 11 men behind the ball. When it was passed into midfield they would press Marcelo Díaz, Felipe Gutiérrez and Charles Aránguiz. More than once in the opening stages and throughout the game Chile were hurried into making mistakes which handed the Dutch a chance to break but with the back three in central areas they were able to prevent a goal Netherlands threatening Claudio Bravo’s goal.
This midfield pressure thwarted Chile’s attacking game plan. Mauricio Isla should have helped Alexis Sánchez get the better of Dirk Kuyt who was playing as a left wing-back. However, it was on the other side where most of Chile’s forays came from as Eugenio Mena sent in cross after cross, most of which did not find a target.
With the midfield three stifled and Eduardo Vargas offering very little to Chile’s play outside the box it was left to Sánchez, el Niño Maravilla, to provide the creativity and recreate the magic which helped Chile beat Egypt, Northern Ireland and Australia. However, this was a Netherlands side managed by Van Gaal. While on paper they don’t have star names at the back, while Wesley Sneijder and Nigel De Jong are ageing in midfield, as a structured unit they thwarted Sánchez time and again, at times using excessive force to leave the Barcelona man frustrated and waving for yellow cards.
Back to the midfield and when they are unable to move the ball around as quickly as they desire, Díaz and Aránguiz have other abilities which aide their side. Gutiérrez on the other hand struggled once again to impose his natural ability on the game and was switched with Jean Beausejour at half time, despite coming closest to scoring with a flicked header and shot from 12 yards.
It was, however, the Dutch who should have been ahead at half-time as Robben demonstrated their prowess on the counter-attack when he performed a computer game style diagonal run taking out four Chile players before sending his shot back across goal but narrowly wide of the post.
With Beausejour on Chile switched to a 3-4-3 with possibly one eye on the freedom which Mena was offered down the left. Beausejour’s better crossing ability would in theory offer Chile better opportunities.
But from the outset of the second half La Roja were forced back as the Dutch pressed higher up the park. Even if this more proactive style from their opponents, La Roja could still not find the speed in their play to turn the defence and get space between the lines or between the back five.
As the game wore on Sampaoli changed t a 4-2-1-3 with the introduction of Jorge Valdivia for Francisco Silva. It was a risk for the Argentine manager to make as it opened created space in which the Dutch could counter-attack into but La Roja had to win.
Seven minutes after Valdivia arrived on the pitch Chile fell behind as Norwich City’s Leroy Fer headed past Claudio Bravo after being completely unmarked at a free-kick.
Chile’s desperation increased with more men summoned forward and even the creative nous of El Mago Valdivia was not enough to prise open an obdurate Dutch defensive display. All that was left was for Robben to pick up on possession inside Chile’s half and run into the space before laying the ball into the path of Depay to secure the win.
The game acted as a microcosm of the problems which Chile are faced from time to time. Despite a lot of possession and pressure they were unable to trouble goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen while they conceded from a set piece and a speedy counter-attack.
Now Chile have to do what they have never done before. Beat Brazil in the World Cup. They have already knocked out the World Cup holders in what was their first ever win over Spain, can they now knock out the hosts?