FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — The inexperienced Dutch defense looked to be the weak link coming into the World Cup. So far, though, it's holding up well enough to keep the team winning.
Again showing he is not afraid to make changes, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal gave defender Paul Verhaegh only his third international appearance against Mexico in the second round, replacing Daryl Janmaat at right back.
The Augsburg player struggled early against pacey Mexico wingback Miguel Layun, but the Netherlands' defense conceded only one goal on Sunday and its lethal front line came to the rescue late to salvage a 2-1 victory.
"I wanted better position play and better buildup in the first and second phases," Van Gaal said. "I thought that that succeeded. We had much more of the ball than in any other game."
If there is a lesson for Costa Rica ahead of the quarterfinals on July 5 in Salvador, it is that the Dutch defense often looks shaky when it is put under pressure.
And in the next match, the Netherlands may be without key defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong. The AC Milan forward had to come off in the ninth minute on Sunday with a groin strain.
Then there is Robin van Persie. The Manchester United striker scored three goals in his first two matches, then sat out a game through suspension and was ineffective against Mexico until Van Gaal — showing that nobody is above being substituted — replaced him with Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
Van Gaal said Van Persie, who was injured before the World Cup, still has trouble lasting the full 90 minutes, especially in the strength-sapping heat of Fortaleza.
But it is the defense that appears to worry Van Gaal the most, and he has repeatedly tinkered with it in Brazil.
The coach gave Dirk Kuyt his first ever match at left back in the final Group B match against Chile and it paid off, with the Dutch neutralizing one of the most potent attacking forces at the World Cup in a 2-0 victory.