PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — The Netherlands had to work much harder for a victory over the World Cup’s lowest-ranked team than it did against the defending world and European champion.
A goalkeeping blunder by Maty Ryan handed substitute Memphis Depay his first international goal and the Netherlands beat a spirited Australian team 3-2 on Wednesday.
Australia made a strong showing against a Dutch team that thrashed Spain 5-1 in its Group B opener.
“In a tournament you can’t play every game fantastically from beginning to end,” Dutch striker Robin van Persie said.
The Netherlands’ Arjen Robben opened the scoring with a break-away goal before Tim Cahill’s stunning volley tied the game 1-1 a minute later. Australia’s Mile Jedinak then converted a 54th-minute penalty kick, but Van Persie equalized with his third goal of the tournament four minutes later.
Depay’s speculative long-range shot beat Ryan in the 68th minute.
It was a tactical change by coach Louis van Gaal that may have helped turn the game for the Dutch, who gave away the ball too often in the first half under pressure from Australia.
After starting with the same 5-3-2 formation that tore apart Spain, Van Gaal switched to the traditional Dutch system of 4-3-3 at halftime — a change forced on him in part by an injury to Bruno Martins Indi.
“That is the natural system that every Dutch boy grows up with,” Van Gaal said. “We can always switch to that system. In the second half it went much better.”
Regardless of which system his team played, Van Gaal said he was pleased with its productivity.
“We’ve scored eight goals and conceded three in two matches,” he said. “That fits into the ‘Holland school’ of attacking football.”
The Netherlands faces Chile in its final Group B match without all-time top scorer Van Persie, who was given his second yellow card of the tournament early in the second half, meaning he is automatically suspended for the next match.
Van Gaal also will have to wait to see if Martins Indi is fit after the central defender was carried off late in the first half following a late challenge by Cahill and sent to the hospital to undergo tests for a possible concussion.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou paid tribute to the way his team fought, and predicted the Dutch could go a long way in the tournament.
“They’re going to be a handful — particularly if you look at the front three,” he said. “Arjen Robben, Van Persie, (Wesley) Sneijder, they’re good enough to unlock any defense.”