• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Netherlands 2 Chile 0: One trick that nobody can figure out how to stop . . .

ARJEN ROBBEN may well be the most successful one-trick pony ever to kick a ball.

Arjen Robben celebrates after his side top Group B. Picture: Getty Sport
Arjen Robben celebrates after his side top Group B. Picture: Getty Sport

There is nothing particularly complicated about how the Dutch forward goes about his business but few could argue that it is not effective.

Give Robben at the ball anywhere in the opponent's half and you don't need a crystal ball to predict what the Bayern Munich man will do next; head down, accelerating towards the goal, tap-tap-tapping it forward with tremendous close control before finding a way to get on to his left foot to unleash a shot on goal. If he is playing wide on the right he will cut inside to the edge of the penalty box and look to bend an effort into the far corner, if he is on the left he will go around the outside of the defender before shooting with power or, very occasionally, passing or crossing for a team-mate. Played centrally he will dash purposefully at backtracking central defenders, the fear evident in their eyes.

The obvious response is to try to usher him on to his weaker right foot but that has proved far easier said than done. Robben's pace and trickery has allowed him to enjoy a better than decent career at some of Europe's elite clubs, with spells at PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern all on his cv.

On the international front, he has become a pivotal player for the Netherlands, too. His importance was felt more than most last night in their final World Cup group game against Chile, with Robin van Persie absent through suspension (making it the first Dutch team to line up without a player with Van in their surname since 1996). Robben is not as fundamental for the Netherlands as Cristiano Ronaldo is for Portugal or Lionel Messi for Argentina, but he is undoubtedly one of the key figures in an otherwise humdrum line-up.

There are no Galacticos in a five-man defence marshaled by Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar, while the inelegant hoofing of Dirk Kuyt and agricultural midfield play of Nigel de Jong are never going to get supporters rushing to their feet in acclaim.

Even those blessed with more creative gifts, like Wesley Sneijder, struggled initially to rise above the mediocrity in Sao Paulo yesterday before making more of a contribution in the second half.

There was little sign of the swashbuckling approach that saw the Netherlands put Spain to the sword in the opening game, or even the battling qualities that helped them come from behind to beat Australia in game two. Instead there was a surprisingly restrained performance from Louis van Gaal's side, perhaps mindful of Chile's predilection for attacking at every opportunity or simply aware that a draw would be good enough to top Group B on goal difference.

It was perhaps not a surprise that when they finally made through the breakthrough through substitute Leroy Fer the goal originated from a set-play. The Dutch then chose to throttle the life out of Chile's usual sense of adventure, at times marking man-for-man across the pitch. The South Americans dominated possession but were given little space or time to produce chances to greatly trouble Jasper Cillessen in the Netherlands goal.

Such Dutch resistance, however, needed a release valve and Robben, captain for the day, was the man to provide it. Whenever they needed to clear the ball up the pitch quickly then the Bayern player was the obvious out-ball. Twice, once in each half, Robben enjoyed great chances to add to the three goals already notched this tournament but was unable to take either.

In the first half he ran from a central position, taking eight left-footed touches and none with the right, before a dummy run by Jeremain Lens created the space for Robben to suddenly veer to the left before dragging his shot wide.

He continued to look the player most likely to score from open play after the break, another run and shot this time requiring a save from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. He would not add to his tally this time but was pivotal when the Netherlands grabbed a second goal in injury time, fastening on to the ball around 40 yards from goal, haring to the byeline then cutting back for substitute Memphis Depay to poke an effort beyond Bravo.

For Chile, this was a setback of sorts. They have become a cult favourite of many neutrals for their whole-hearted, positive approach to the game, their fanbase swollen further after knocking out holders Spain. Suffocated expertly by the Dutch, however, they were unable to make the same impact here.

The consolation for coach Jorge Sampaoli and his players is that they were already safely through to the last 16.

Their nemesis Brazil, though, awaits them next.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

242685