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Jun 16, 2014

Australia v Netherlands: 50-50 Challenge

AustraliaAustralia
NetherlandsNetherlands
2
3
FT
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After their impressive victory over Spain, can the Netherlands keep their feet on the ground and get the job done? A victory over the Socceroos will all but secure their place in the Round of 16.

Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Australia take on Netherlands in Group B, Rob Brooks (Australia) and Elko Born (Netherlands) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Rob Brooks:  Everything is at stake from an Australian perspective. It's do or die in this fixture. Essentially, anything short of three points will make it virtually impossible to progress beyond the group stage. And that result, of course, is unlikely after the form Netherlands showed against Spain.

On the Socceroos' side, however, is history. Indeed, they have never lost to Netherlands in an international match, boasting a record of two draws and one win over their more illustrious opponents. It's a point coach Ange Postecoglou will hope to draw from in the lead up to this critical encounter.

Elko Born:  After Netherlands' 5-1 demolition job against Spain on Friday, the Dutch have now set their sights on first place in the group. Finishing on top would greatly help in avoiding host nation Brazil in the round of 16 and consequently a win against Australia is regarded as an absolute requisite. Going into the match as clear favourites, the Dutch will also try to boost their confidence by putting more than just a few past the Australians. To do this, manager Louis van Gaal might revert back to his favoured 4-3-3 formation. Hopefully for Netherlands this attitude will not come back to haunt them.

X factor

RB: After his international career-best showing against Chile in Australia's Group B opener, Mathew Leckie will be looking to spark an upset. The Frankfurt flier showed the sort of dynamism that put him on the map while at Adelaide United in the Chile clash, sparking a glut of interest from clubs around Europe.

If he plays with the same spring in his step against Netherlands, it's feasible to see him being whisked away on to a bigger stage at club level next season. Though, after reviewing Australia's loss to Chile, Van Gaal will no doubt be keen to keep the space around Leckie to a minimum.

EB:  On Friday Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie played a huge role in the slaughter of the Spanish defence and both players put two past a stunned Iker Casillas. Against Australia, Robben and van Persie will be looking to continue their goal-scoring ways. What's more, the unleashed Daley Blind -- who delivered the assist for van Persie's wonder-goal -- will be looking to put in another good performance as left back, and it will be up to the Australians to stop the youngster.

Fear factor

RB: Take your pick among Van Persie, Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Australia's defence lacks experience and will be required to hold out a red-hot Dutch attacking line-up. No easy task.

The trio will fire a lot of traffic down Australia's right side following the injury to right-back Ivan Franjic. Ryan McGowan -- known more for his work in the centre of defence -- is expected to fill in but will have his work cut out for him. The last time McGowan started a match for the Socceroos out wide, Neymar jigged his way around the Shandong Luneng man at will as Brazil won 6-0 in a friendly. The opportunity to right that wrong will be McGowan's to seize.

EB: As a footballing nation, Australia are not very well known in Netherlands. But there is, of course, the memory of the World Cup in 2006, when Dutch manager Guus Hiddink led the Australians into the round of 16. What's more, Dick "Cooky" Voorn, who was one of former Netherlands manager Bert van Marwijk's assistants in 2010, has worked for the Australian FA in the past year, analysing the Dutch team and reporting to Australia's technical director Han Berger -- yet another Dutchman.

Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak will have a crucial role to play for Australia.

Key battle

RB: There will be bigger names lining up for both sides but the clash between Mile Jedinak and Nigel De Jong in the heart of the pitch promises to be something special. Neither man has considered taking a backward step when the heat is on, so expect challenges to be flying in as they aim to dictate the tempo for their respective nations.

A point largely overlooked in the Socceroos' loss to Chile was the number of times Jedinak pushed his way into the opposing penalty area -- a side of his game rarely seen at international level. With Mark Milligan dropping in behind, expect Jedinak to forge on again in this clash, bringing him nose-to-nose with De Jong regularly. Bring it on!

EB: Contrary to Spain's tiki-taka tactics, Australia's style of play might not involve a very high defensive line. Therefore, it won't be as easy for Robben and van Persie to find space behind their opponents' defenders. But should van Gaal decide to play Sneijder as an old-fashioned No. 10, the playmaker might be able to thrive in the space between Australia's defence and midfield. From there, Sneijder would be able to make optimal use of his passing and shooting abilities. In battling Robben and van Persie, then, the Australians would do well not to forget about Sneijder.

Prediction

RB: This one could end up 2-2 as both sides throw caution to the wind. Due to their excellent head-to-head record with Netherlands and the confidence gained from the second half against Chile, Australia might just fancy a shock result.

EB: Still on a high from their amazing performance against Spain, Netherlands will go into the match against Australia with maximum confidence. It's almost impossible for them to disappoint. Netherlands to win 3-0.

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