Chile slowed by respectful Dutch
Following Chile's defeat at the hands of the Netherlands on Monday, Wesley Sneijder accused La Roja coach Jorge Sampaoli of being "a little disrespectful" -- a fitting choice of words, as it was a good deal of respect that won the Netherlands the match.
Sampaoli had launched an uncharacteristic attack on Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal for perceived negative tactics in a game the Dutchman's side ultimately won convincingly.
The Chile coach said only one team set out to win the match and described the defeat as undeserved against a side that "defended and sent up long balls."
Van Gaal brushed aside the criticism and claimed that victory was the only thing on his mind going into the encounter.
"I'm not interested in what the coach of Chile says," the Dutch manager said. "It's all about winning. I want to win. I'm going to pick a system that will help me win. I won with AZ using similar tactics. I believe that you have to create a strategy to win."
If Sampaoli's reaction lacked respect, it was, in the end, Van Gaal's high esteem for the Argentine's team that led to the Dutch win.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque did not have the luxury of watching Chile play against top opposition prior to his second game and paid for his ignorance as Chile bamboozled his team with a total disregard for Spain's reputation. In that match, Chile played its hand, and shock-and-awe tactics will no longer reap such hefty rewards in this competition.
Fans hoping to watch the swashbuckling Dutch team that blew away the Spanish and scored eight goals in two matches were left wanting.
Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt double-teamed Alexis Sanchez, who had a frustrating game by his standards, despite breaking through on occasion and creating a handful of half chances. Chile, however, expects teams to gang up on its best player and at times welcomes the Barcelona man's magnetic draw of opposition personnel.
What truly made the difference on the day was a low-lying defensive midfielder of high quality. Nigel de Jong cut the detonation cord whenever midfielders sought out Eduardo Vargas slipping in behind, and just like that Chile was undone.
Equally concerning was Chile's tepid Plan B. If Sampaoli was critical of the Dutch for a long-ball approach, he should re-run the tape of the final 10 minutes of the match. Classic center forwards usually have no business in this Chile side, and Mauricio Pinilla's innings showed why.
The striker was brought on in the 80th minute, and a staggering 52 percent of Chile's total aerial crosses into the box were squeezed into the final 13 minutes of play. Needless to say, nothing came of them, as Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar happily nodded away the tame service while Pinilla spent most of the time in a tangled heap at their knees.
There were some positives to take away from among those who played -- and crucially those who didn't. Chile is a different team without Arturo Vidal. Not only does he have proven goal-scoring ability, but he also is one of the few men in the side who can match muscular opposition such as the Dutch. He has the physicality needed to hold on to the ball in the final third for just that second longer, allowing Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla to join Sanchez and Vargas and double the threat out wide. The return of "King Arthur" cannot come a day too soon.
And while the Netherlands scored two goals, they weren't through the kind of defensive lapses that littered qualifying and recent friendlies. A late addition to this Chile side, Francisco Silva has quickly proved indispensable. He was, admittedly, a little reckless on Monday -- picking up a yellow and pushing his luck throughout the game -- though he did manage to play Jeremain Lens off the pitch.
In the first half, when Chile fizzed confidently about the pitch, everything started with Gary Medel, who is beginning to approach his best form in a sweeping defensive role at just the right time. With a game in hand, the defender has completed more passes than anyone in the World Cup, and against the Dutch only a handful went back as he maintained aggressive forward momentum.
To see this Dutch team rely so heavily on the break and cede two-thirds of possession says a lot about how far La Roja have come.
It must be remembered too that the Netherlands did not need to play for a win or take risks to remain top of the group. There is no denying that Chilean fans are daunted at the prospect of Brazil, its perennial World Cup Waterloo, though in a winner-takes-all contest, more openings are likely to materialize against an arguably less impressive side than the Dutch.
Defeat in a cagey, tactical match that needed no winner to see the teams through is not the best metric by which to measure this Chile side. When they have their backs against the wall, when courage and risk are awarded, then win or lose Saturday these men will once again play with the celebratory abandon of a Latin carnival.