Dutch escape wild match with 3-2 win as Australia impresses again

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The Aussies put forth a valiant effort again, but again they could not sustain the pressure as the Netherlands picked up their second comeback win in two World Cup matches 3-2 on a 68-minute winner by Memphis Depay.

The Socceroos led briefly after Mile Jedinak buried an early second-half penalty, but Robin van Persie equalized four minutes later, and substitute midfielder Depay hit from distance 10 minutes later to bury the Australians.

The game started with the Dutch on top, but progressed in the opposite direction than the one against Spain did. Australia slowly built themselves into possession and into the game, and because of that the first Dutch goal came against the run of play.

Australia gave the ball away in the midfield, with Daley Blind stepping in and heading it over to Robben, and the Dutch winger took over from there. He skipped past a foul in the midfield, for which he was given advantage, and found himself 2-on-1 in the box.  He passed up a wide-open Robin van Persie and took the shot himself, finishing low across the face to the far post past a sprawled Maty Ryan.

But don’t count the Socceroos out. They weren’t phased, and came down the other end immediately to respond. Ryan McGowan, in the lineup for an injured Ivan Franjic, launched a beautiful long ball to Cahill, who fired a brilliant volley off the crossbar and in. The goal came 70 seconds after Robben opened the scoring.

There was no more scoring in the first half, but Australia asserted their dominance, winding up with 55% of possession. Robin van Persie finished the half with just one shot and 11 touches, while Wesley Sneijder ended the first 45 just 9-of-16 passing.

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The second half provided even more entertainment.  The Dutch defense proved even more shaky early after the break, and the Aussies capitalized. After a promising attack that went unpunished just five minutes after halftime, the Aussies struck with their next chance.

In the 53rd minute, substitute striker Oliver Bozanic whipped in a cross with Daryl Janmaat covering, and the ball struck the defender’s hand in the box. Replays showed the two men were very close to each other and it was clearly hard for Janmaat to get his hand out of the way, but it was behind him and therefore in an unnatural position, blocking the cross into the box.

source: AP
Robin van Persie (right) and Memphis Depay rescued their side from deficit to victory with the final two Dutch goals.

With the penalty given, Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak converted low and powerful, and the Socceroos had a shocking lead.

But just like Australia in the first half, the Dutch responded almost immediately.  The deficit provided a kick in the rear they required, and van Persie bore the fruit, slotted through by Depay and finishing powerfully for the lead.

Mathew Leckie had a brilliant chance to go in front on 67 minutes after a bad giveaway by Ron Vlaar, but Leckie’s chest shot went straight at Davy Cillessen after the cross by Tommy Oar.  It proved detrimental, as the Dutch would take advantage moments later down the other end.

Substitute Depay, on for the injured Bruno Martins Indi, had a go from long range, and the swerving shot crept into the net past a bamboozled Ryan, giving the Dutch a lead again at 3-2.

The Aussies quickly began to tire, and struggled to keep possession.  As the Dutch asserted their ascendency just as Chile did late in the game a week ago against Australia, they prevented a second comeback by the underdogs by holding much of the ball in the final 10 minutes.

There were two yellow cards of note.  Tim Cahill clattered Indi in the first half, earning him his second yellow card of the tournament and a suspension for the match against Spain along with it.  With Cahill at 34 years old, the suspension likely means he has played his final World Cup game, and maybe even his final in an Australian shirt.  Indi also appeared to be unconscious after the collision, and was substituted off.

Robin van Persie also picked up a yellow early in the second half – his second in two matches – for a wild elbow, and will miss the Dutch group-stage finale against Chile.

The win gives the Dutch 6 total points, and they will clinch a place in the knockout round if Chile wins or draws against Spain later today.  The same situation would see the Aussies mathematically knocked out of the tournament.

LINEUPS:

Netherlands – Cillessen, Vlaar, de Vrij, Indi (Depay 45′), Blind, de Jong, Janmaat, de Guzman (Wijnaldum 78′), van Persie (Lens 87′), Sneijder, Robben.

Goals: Robben 20′, van Persie 58′, Depay 68′

Australia – Ryan, Davidson, Spiranovic, Wilkinson, McGowan; Jedinak, McKay, Oar (Taggart 77′), Leckie; Bresciano (Bozanic 52′), Cahill (Halloran 68′).

Goals: Cahill 21′, Jedinak (pen) 54′

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.