PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Louis van Gaal can pinpoint the moment he knew his Netherlands team would be able to hold off Australia and secure the win that ultimately put them through to the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
With just over 20 minutes to go in a frantic, seesawing match, Australia missed a golden chance to take a 3-2 lead.
Sitting on the bench, van Gaal saw that as the sign and turned to his assistant coaches to tell them.
“I said to Patrick Kluivert and Danny Blind, ‘We’re going to win this match because if they miss that kind of chance, we will score the goal.’”
Seconds later, he was proved right. From the very next attack, substitute Memphis Depay drove a swerving, speculative shot toward the goal from 25 yards. Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan didn’t sight it early enough and the ball shot past his outstretched right hand.
It capped a game that intensified suddenly when a 20th- minute solo run and strike by Arjen Robben was cancelled out seconds later by a stunning volley from Australia’s inspirational veteran Tim Cahill.
Australia then went ahead with a second-half penalty, only for Robin Van Persie to equalize four minutes later.
The result left the Netherlands, which thrashed defending champion Spain 5-1 in its opening game, on the verge of advancing from Group B. That was confirmed a few hours later when Chile beat Spain, knocking the 2010 World Cup winners and Australia out of contention.
“Bitterly disappointing,” Australia manager Ange Postecoglou said. “Just for the players, they were magnificent. They took it to a world-class team. Full credit to them, but I just feel bitterly disappointed they weren’t able to get some reward out of it today. We came to this World Cup and we’re playing against three of the best nations in the world.”