Sao Paulo: The Netherlands and Chile will fight it out for the top spot in Group B on Monday, and hope they can avoid a fearsome second round assignment against five-time World Cup winners Brazil.
But it’s not just because of Brazil’s awesome reputation or Neymar’s superb skills. As Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said, he is keen to avoid Brazil in the next round because the host country at any World Cup has the advantage.
Van Gaal railed against Fifa and suggested that the scheduling of the games disadvantaged the Dutch.
Although Brazil have played before the Netherlands in the first two games, they play after them in the final group round, theoretically giving them an advantage, because they will know who they are likely to meet in the last 16.
The winners of Brazil’s Group A play the runners-up in Group B on Saturday, while the second-placed team in Group A meet the Group B winners next Sunday.
“For every match they (Fifa) have this publicity around fair play. Fifa plays these tricks. It’s not a good thing of course. It’s not fair play,” Van Gaal said, when asked about the order of the matches on Monday.
“We're going to focus on a victory against Chile, and I don’t think that will be affected by the fact that Brazil will be playing after us. I’m just assuming that they will do their sporting duty.”
Speaking to fifa.com, Van Gaal, when asked whether it was important to avoid Brazil, replied: “Definitely. If I were allowed to choose, I’d rather not play against Brazil, although Croatia or Mexico aren’t bad opponents either. But I think at a World Cup, the host country always has an advantage.”
Van Gaal railed against the referees, who he said had awarded two erroneous penalties against his side in the opening two games. On both occasions the opposition scored, forcing the Netherlands to come from behind to win.
“We have seen at this World Cup that we conceded a penalty on two occasions that was unjustified, that was incorrect, at least in my opinion,” he said.
Both the Netherlands and Chile 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 triumph over Spain and 3-2 scrap against Australia.
Arjen Robben clocked 37 km/hr, 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 star will again hit the heights in Monday’s match, effectively a precursor for the knockout challenges ahead.
Robben and 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 Van Gaal 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 1-2 early in the first half before Van Persie and Memphis Depay spared them the blushes.
The Dutch may find themselves against an understrength Chile after Juventus star Arturo Vidal and Internacional’s Charles Aranguiz both skipped training on Friday.