The Netherlands have put one foot in the Round of 16 with a fantastically entertaining 3-2 win over Australia at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre. The Socceroos, for their part, now stand on the brink of elimination despite an excellent performance, and the fate of both teams will be confirmed should Chile win or draw against Spain in today's second Group B encounter.
Louis van Gaal went into this game with an unchanged line-up for the first time since taking charge of the Netherlands, but any hopes he had of his team picking up where they left off against the Spanish were to prove in vain. Australia were the best team by a distance in a first half that was illuminated by two outstanding goals, and by terrific wing play by the enterprising Mathew Leckie.
The Frankfurt wide man caused the Dutch all sorts of problems and created the game's first genuine opportunity after 16 minutes when he skipped away from his marker and picked out Mark Bresciano at the edge of the box. The Qatar-based midfielder was quickly closed down by defenders, though, and saw his shot deflected behind for a corner.
A goal would have been no more than the Socceroos deserved, even at that early stage, but four minutes later they found themselves behind after a lightning Dutch breakaway. The goal was all down to the speed and quality of Arjen Robben, with the Bayern Munich star spinning away from Alex Wilkinson on the halfway line, racing powerfully towards goal and angling a precise left-foot shot into the far corner of the net.
It was a brilliant strike - one of the best of the tournament so far - and yet it was to be bettered within a few seconds at the other end. This was a very different kind of goal, with Tim Cahill allowing a long ball to drop over his shoulder before smashing a first-time volley in off the underside of the crossbar - and this with his supposedly weaker left foot.
No-one could quibble with the fact that the Aussies were well worth their superb equaliser, and they should have gone into the interval with a one-goal advantage. As it was, Bresciano - having been teed up by yet more positive wing play by Leckie - leant back at the crucial moment and directed his right foot shot over the bar when a goal seemed likely.
The Dutch, having changed their shape due in part to an injury to Bruno Martins Indi, began the second half more brightly and forced an excellent early save from Maty Ryan through Wesley Sneijder. However, they were to find themselves behind just eight minutes after the restart when Mile Jedinak coolly slotted home from the penalty spot, sending Jasper Cillessen the wrong way after Daryl Janmaat had been penalised for a handball.
Australia's lead lasted barely longer than the Netherlands' had in the first half, though, with Robin Van Persie equalising inside four minutes. There was never any doubt once the *Oranje's *record scorer sprung the Aussie offside trap, with Van Persie able to set his sights before crashing a left-foot shot into the roof of the net from ten yards.
Ultimately, this thrilling end-to-end game was decided in the space of a minute midway through the second half, when the Dutch scored just seconds after the Socceroos had missed a gilt-edged chance. Tommy Oar was the guilty party, opting to cross for Leckie, who could only chest into the arms of Cillessen, rather than go for goal himself from an unmarked position inside the box. That decision was punished in the very next attack, when substitute Memphis Depay turned, advanced and beat Ryan from 25 yards with a low, swerving right-foot shot.
It was to prove the final goal of a match that will live long in the memory, and which could prove hugely significant in determining the outcome of Group B.