Razor-Sharp Van Gaal Showing How To Win

Matt Stanger was in Sao Paulo to witness a masterclass from Louis van Gaal as the Netherlands coach once again demonstrated his tactical acumen to help defeat Chile...

Last Updated: 24/06/14 at 09:27 Post Comment

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This was a footballing lesson from Louis van Gaal, both on the pitch and in the post-match press conference. The Netherlands manager has been in prickly form over the past few days - accusing FIFA of "playing tricks" with their scheduling for Brazil's final group game - and it showed as he took one unsuspecting American journalist to task over his particular line of questioning.

It was put to Van Gaal that he adopted a negative approach against Chile in Robin van Persie's absence, but the Dutch coach immediately turned the conversation on its head. "Could you give a definition of attacking football? That's my question to you. You have such a clever question. Now give me an answer," said an irritable Van Gaal. The journalist stuttered that it wasn't a criticism but the can of worms had been opened.

"If I played 4-3-3 against Chile, Robben and Lens would have had to run after them. They can't do that for 90 minutes," Van Gaal continued. "It's all about winning. I want to win so I'm going to pick a system that will help me win. I believe that's what football is."

It was a lick of the sharp tongue Premier League reporters can looked forward to next season, but Van Gaal's exasperation was justified considering the 90 minutes it followed. The Netherlands readily ceded the ball to Chile in their Group B decider in Sao Paulo - recording only 32% possession - but limited a relentless opponent to just a single shot on target. As Arjen Robben said when he collected his man of the match award: "We've done our job."

The occasion didn't live up to its pre-match billing despite Chile pressing for the victory they needed to top the group and avoid a potential last-16 clash with Brazil. But Van Gaal's pragmatism was vindicated by the Netherlands securing a 2-0 win when only a draw was required. The Dutch didn't play to control the game, they played to control the best chances.

That was clear from the start as Daley Blind and Nigel de Jong clipped balls over the top of Chile's vertically challenged defence to try and find the darting runs of Robben and Jeremain Lens. The latter attempted more shots (two) than passes (one) in the first half as the Netherlands relied on making the most of their time in possession. While Gary Medel completed more passes than Van Gaal's entire team before the break, it certainly wasn't one-way traffic.

For all Chile's intricate approach play and the cunning of Alexis Sanchez, it was the orange flash of Robben that proved the most devastating attacking outlet for either side. His assist for Memphis Depay in a lightning last-minute counter-attack typified a tireless performance, but he acknowledged the defensive platform on which the result was achieved. "I'm really proud of the way we defended as a team," said Robben. "This is not where we want to stop. We'll take some time to enjoy this - it's a fantastic result, fantastic performance - but it shouldn't end here."

It's likely that it won't with the Netherlands now expecting a favourable last-16 tie against Mexico or Croatia. Considering the light work they made of arguably the toughest group, either test should only be a formality en route to the quarter-finals.

For Chile, it seems Brazil lie in wait once again. Jorge Sampaoli suggested his team were the only side that wanted to play in Sao Paulo, but he could learn something from Van Gaal pinpointing the most efficient way to win. That should be aided by the return of Arturo Vidal, with Chile looking to justify the hype and avenge their 3-0 defeat to Brazil at the same stage in 2010.

By Matt Stanger in Sao Paulo - follow him on Twitter

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