The Netherlands made a statement to all nations who would be World Cup champions.
They will have to go through the Oranje.
The Netherlands defeated Chile 2-0 Monday to finish first in Group B, likely avoiding Brazil in the knockout phase of the tournament.
It was a strong performance, but it was more than just the win that left people shaking their heads. It was the comfort with which the Dutch played both physically and emotionally.
They were truly never under threat even though it was the Chileans that needed to push forward in order to get a better draw in the next round. The Dutch had the better goal-differential so a tie would have been enough for them to finish in first place.
The expectation was that Chile would attack from the opening kickoff, but instead they opted to play a conservative game and wait for a break. The Dutch were more than willing to let the game go at that pace. They easily controlled Chile’s front line, and while the vaunted Dutch offence didn’t create a lot of chances, especially with Robin van Persie sitting out a game due to an accumulation of disciplinary cards, they didn’t have to.
Still, the Dutch were more dangerous than Chile. Arjen Robben, who is having a wonderful World Cup, took off on several jaunts leaving the field strewn with Chilean defenders trying to stop him. He is playing with great purpose.
Chile never looked to have what it took to score, but the Dutch did. Leroy Fey broke through in the 77th minute for the Dutch and scored with a header. Memphis Depay scored the second goal on a Robben cross following a jaunt by the veteran in added time.
“If you told me that we'd win our three games to finish top of the group two months ago I'd have been delighted, but I don't want to end it here,” Robben said. “We want to go on. Although we want to enjoy the moment, we'll soon need to start to work hard in training to improve even more.”
Between the first goal and the second, Chile finally came alive. They tried to push the Dutch, but it was like pushing against a wall. There was no give.
The Dutch were bigger, stronger and always in perfect position.
In its first two games, the Netherlands impressed with their skill and scoring power. There were some questions about their discipline and defence.
Great teams attack from the weakest points and while the Dutch have been the best offensive team in the tournament so far, other teams hoped when the games turned gritty and less open the Dutch would be vulnerable.
After Monday’s game that hope is now gone.
Chile is not an easy team to control. A goal could have relegated the Dutch to a meeting with Brazil. It takes discipline and focus to play 90 minutes in the fashion the Dutch played, especially since that style isn’t one of their specialties.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal appeared to be trying to keep a cap on his enthusiasm.
“It was a match of the highest quality. We limited Chile to a handful of opportunities, we neutralized them extremely effectively – and particularly in the second half we created more chances,” he said. “We did have to change our style and I will always pick a system and a strategy that will help us win. However, we're not perfect. In possession we still need to improve. But I do think we're very good without the ball.”
In 1998 the Netherlands reached the last 16 of the World Cup. They ran into Brazil on that occasion an were knocked out by penalty kicks.
So one is left with the perception is that it was important that the Dutch avoid Brazil.
Maybe it should be looked at from the other end of the spectrum. The way the Dutch are playing right now, if they had encountered Brazil, it would be the Brazilians who should worry.