PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — The key question for most ahead of Netherlands' second World Cup match is whether Robin Van Persie and co. can possibly top their stunning opening performance.
The opponents this time is Australia, a much easier prospect than defending champion Spain, which it thrashed 5-1. Van Persie set the tournament alight with a memorable, diving header.
The Dutch had modest expectations going into the World Cup. Their win against Spain has changed that.
"After such a performance, the dynamics have naturally changed. However, as a country, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. We have to stay realistic," van Persie said. "We achieved an impressive result but we have a long way to go to win this tournament. This is my fifth (major) tournament and I know how these things work: the euphoria vanishes just as quickly as it appears."
The Dutch know that a win would leave them well-poised to top Group B — an especially prized spot given that the runners-up in the section can reasonably be expected to face host Brazil in the second round. It would almost certainly condemn Australia's team of mostly newcomers to an early exit, in line with the gloomy pre-tournament predictions.
Netherlands manager Louis Van Gaal confirmed his reputation as a master tactician against Spain, playing five defenders and making the most of counter-attacking opportunities. Van Gaal hinted he might revert to the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system against Australia.
For Australia to stand a chance on Wednesday afternoon in the southern city of Porto Alegre, the Socceroos' all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill will need to again be at the peak of his game.
Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, who knows Cahill from when both played in the Premier League, said the New York Red Bulls' striker was one of the best headers of the ball in the game. The 34-year-old Cahill's header provided Australia's only goal in the 3-1 loss to Chile.
"He's a terrific player that always gives his heart and his all on the pitch. For his country or his club," de Jong said. "We have to be careful because the timing to the ball with his headers is one of the best; he's one of the best timers I've seen from all the players around the world. So we have to take care of that very well. We have to take this game very serious."
The quality of the opposition always meant Australia was going to struggle in Brazil. The country has a history of gritty performance against stronger teams, and has shocked one or two bigger nations, but most of the larger upsets have come in friendlies.
Still, the players and coach believe, with some justification, that the score against Chile didn't tell the whole story. Down by two goals in the first 15 minutes, Cahill's 34th minute goal triggered a comeback that had the South Americans on the defensive for much of the second half. Chile's third goal came in injury time.
"If we get our start right the next game I think we'll be in with a better shot," said Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan, who is playing in his first Word Cup. "Hopefully we come out against Holland a lot more positive and being a lot braver in the beginning. Spain's loss highlights that anything can happen at a World Cup."
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou was handed a blow when attacking fullback Ivan Franjic tore a hamstring in the Chile match, ending his tournament. That has led to further upheaval in a defensive lineup already very much in transition and now facing Manchester United's van Persie and Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben.