If Ange Postecoglou is true to his word – and there is no reason to doubt him – Australia will not be parking the bus when they come face-to-face with a Holland side that annihilated Spain. “I think we’ve said right from the start that’s not why we came to the World Cup,” the Australia coach said. “I think if we just try to defend for 90 minutes, there’s only going to be one result and that won’t be in our favour.”
History is on Australia’s side on Wednesday – Holland have failed to beat them in their three previous meetings – and they are also not short of inside knowledge on a nation that has influenced the Socceroos’ footballing philosophy for the best part of a decade, ever since Guus Hiddink was appointed as manager in 2005.
A year later, Hiddink, who will replace Louis van Gaal as the Holland manager after the finals in Brazil, took Australia to the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time in their history. Alongside Hiddink in the dugout was Johan Neeskens, the former Ajax and Barcelona midfielder.
Hiddink departed after the World Cup finals in Germany but his legacy lives on in Australia. Robert Baan, another Dutchman, was appointed technical director at the end of 2006. Pim Verbeek, also from the Netherlands, later replaced Hiddink and took Australia to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. In between times, Jan Versleijen, who also heralds from the Netherlands, was put in charge of the federation’s national youth programme, and Han Berger, the former Holland under-21 coach, was named the new technical director.
Australia, in short, know a fair bit about the way the Dutch operate. “We’ve had Dutch national coaches in the past and that has driven the development of our football in the last couple of years,” Postecoglou said on the eve of their Group B match against Holland in Porto Alegre. “We have an understanding of how they play the game – but if you watch the first game, against Spain, the Dutch certainly didn’t play 4-3-3. I think it comes down to our approach on Wednesday and having belief in the way we play.”
For Australia, the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup, the natural assumption is that it will be an exercise in damage limitation. They were blown away in the opening 15 minutes against Chile last Friday, when they conceded twice before going down 3-1. Holland are unlikely to provide any respite. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, judging by their performances against Spain earlier the same day, are intent on enjoying themselves in Brazil, which hardly bodes well for the Australia defence.
“In terms of Van Persie and Robben, if you add [Wesley] Sneijder to that, it’s a pretty impressive front half for any team,” Postecoglou said. “We know it’s a challenge, we faced up to [Arturo] Vidal and [Alexis] Sanchez against Chile, so most countries have got some world-class forwards to contend with. But it’s just as important that we try and hurt Holland the other way. I think anyone who watched the matchagainst Spain, if Spain had gone 2-0 up, they probably would have gone onto win the game. So sometimes the scoreline doesn’t reflect the game.”
Postecoglou has been forced to make two changes to his starting XI, after losing Ivan Franjic and Mark Milligan to hamstring injuries. Tim Cahill, whom Van Gaal singled out as the player that Holland need to watch, will again be tasked with leading the line on a night when Australia will be backed by 18,000 fans inside the Estadio Beira-Rio.
“We have fantastic support, coming from Australia all the way to Brazil has been a massive journey. They’ll be right behind us,” Postecoglou said. “In terms of the game, I don’t think what’s happened in the past is relevant. It’s a massive challenge, a lot at stake for both teams. If the Dutch win, they’re through to the next round. If we don’t get a result it’s the end of our tournament. So I think both teams will be highly motivated.”