Holland 2 Chile 0: Three talking points as Liverpool target shines
Holland 2 Chile 0: Three talking points as Alexis Sanchez tries in vain to prevent the Dutch winning Group B
With the plethora of talent at Barcelona surrounding him, the quality of Alexis Sanchez is often overlooked. Despite enjoying his best-ever season with the Nou Camp club, which included 21 goals and 15 assists, the pre-tournament hype centered around team-mates Lionel Messi and Neymar. Although he may not be the main attacking focus for his club side, the winger is undoubtedly the key outlet for Jorge Sampaoli’s team, as he has netted six of their last eight goals and set up one of the other two. Their scoring power was evident in South American qualifying with 29 goals in 16 matches – as only Argentina out-scored them. Throughout this tournament, it is clear to see that he has brought the confidence from a successful season to a national team dubbed the “Spain of South America”. This comparison is a reference to the Spaniards in a peak form – with a style built upon pace, power and pressing. The 25-year-old Liverpool target is the epitome of the commitment to this style and he illustrated it perfectly in the opening two games. Against Australia, he showed exceptional composure to guide a first goal past the helpless dive of Matthew Ryan before laying on a perfect assist for Jorge Valdivida to curl home a stunning strike from the edge of the area. In the second game against Spain – which many are heralded as the death knell for their golden generation – his willingness to close down led to him picking up Xabi Alonso’s poor pass. He then showed great awareness to start the trio of passes which led Eduardo Vargas, poking home the opener before his scintillating free-kick, which was only parried, was guided home for a sealing second. Sanchez also forms a threatening forward trio, which includes Vargas and Arturo Vidal, who both ply their trade in Italy with Napoli and Juventus respectively. The influential forward put in a good performance, despite his side being on the wrong end of a 2-0 defeat, as he troubled Daley Blind for the entirety of the game.
Big day for Depay
In the absence of talismanic figure Robin van Persie, who is suspended for this final group game, outgoing coach Louis van Gaal turned to exciting talent Memphis Depay as the striker’s replacement. He enjoyed an impressive season with club side PSV Eindhoven last year, netting 14 goals in 43 appearances, which attracted the attention of a number of potential suitors. Already hailed as the ‘new Cristiano Ronaldo’, the 20-year-old has been heavily linked with a summer move to England, with Spurs supposedly interested. While he has big boots to fill, Depay has already proved that he can make his mark on this tournament. After being introduced as a 48th-minute substitute against Australia, the forward helped to mastermind a comeback victory for his team. Firstly, he supplied a perfectly weighted through ball for Van Persie to lash home the equaliser before he secured the three points with a stunning effort. Turning sharply, Depay unleashed a swerving 25-yard strike, which caught out the keeper and opened the Dutchman’s international account. In turn, he became the youngest player from his country to score a goal at the World Cup, just four months beyond his 20th birthday. With all the eyes on the youngster, he was introduced in the 69th minute and made a discernible impact on the match. After showcasing his talent with another long-range effort, which forced Chile keeper Claudio Bravo into a sharp stop, Depay secured the three points and top spot in Group B in stoppage-time with a calm finish.
Brazil test faces Group B qualifiers
Prior to the beginning of the campaign, few people would have predicted that this game would be the decider for the two qualifying spots in the group. Both teams have exceeded expectations, with ruthless destructions of defending champions Spain acting as a marker of their intentions. Bigger tests await the losers of this fixture though as whoever finishes in second spot is likely to come up against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Samba Boys. Chile hold bad memories of their past match-ups with the Brazilians as they have accounted for the departure of La Roja from the three tournaments they qualified for. In 1962, their dreams of reaching the final on home soil were ended by the Verde-Amarela and this poor run continued in 1998 and 2010, as they were eliminated in the last 16 stage by the same opposition. Given their good form, Holland may fancy their chances against a team that have failed to reach top gear and statistics also suggest that they could cause an upset. The Flying Dutchmen have only lost two of their 11 World Cup games against South American opponents: the 1978 final against Argentina and the 1994 quarter-final against Brazil. While any fixture in the first knockout stage is always tricky, only time will tell as to who will face the unenviable task of taking on the hosts.