SAO PAULO, June 23: The Netherlands and Chile will fight it out for top spot in Group B on Monday and hope they can avoid a fearsome round two assignment against five-time World Cup winners Brazil.
Both teams have won their opening two games, putting them into the last 16 with a maximum six points each and sending reigning champions Spain and Australia crashing out.
Only goal-difference separates the two, with the Netherlands narrowly top following their 5-1 win over Spain and 3-2 scrap against Australia.
Brazil are favoured to qualify top in Group A, meaning they will face whoever finishes second in Group B — a match-up neither the Netherlands nor Chile will relish.
But with the outcome of Group A, where Brazil, Mexico and Croatia are separated by just one point, far from clear, Group B’s winners could still end up facing the hosts.
It is a complicating factor that neither the Netherlands nor Chile will want to dwell on before Monday’s game at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.
Arjen Robben clocked 37 kilometres (23 miles) per hour, a record for a footballer, as he inspired the Netherlands’ deconstruction of short-passing Spain.
But it remains to be seen if the Bayern Munich flyer will again hit the heights in Monday’s run-out, effectively a precursor for the knock-out challenges ahead.
Robben and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie have lit up this World Cup with three goals each and more will be needed if the Netherlands are to reach their second final in a row.
Coach Louis van Gaal, who will link up with Van Persie at Old Trafford next season, will be looking for more solidity after some distinctly worrying moments against Australia.
Against one of the tournament’s least fancied teams, the Netherlands were trailing 2-1 early in the first half before Van Persie and Memphis Depay spared their blushes.
“I needed to change something at half-time to boost their confidence and change their mindset,” said Van Gaal.
“Fortunately it turned out ok, but it could have turned out differently. To recover and correct that situation showed a lot of mental strength.”
The Dutch may find themselves against an under-strength Chile after Juventus star Arturo Vidal and Internacional’s Charles Aranguiz both skipped training on Friday.
Both Aranguiz and Vidal, who is on a yellow card, came off injured during the 2-0 win over Spain, which sensationally ended the European champions’ title defence.
But Vidal said he had no concerns about picking up a second yellow card which would earn him a one-match ban, ruling him out of Chile’s round of 16 game.
“This squad is showing how great it is and that’s why I’m not thinking about that yellow card, nor that I could be suspended,” Vidal told Chile’s El Mercurio newspaper.
“I just hope to play and be in the group, that’s the mentality of this group,” he said.
Midfielder Carlos Carmona, who could be promoted to the starting line-up if either Vidal or Aranguiz is ruled out, said the squad was strong enough to cope with their absence.
“Eventual suspensions are something normal in these tournaments, but we have players who can replace anyone in such an eventuality,” said the 27-year-old Atalanta player.
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