PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) – Memphis Depay scored a late clincher as Netherlands withstood Australia’s unsettling challenge in a 3-2 comeback win Wednesday to move to the verge of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
Netherlands followed up its 5-1 rout of defending champion Spain with a closer-than-expected win against Australia, which is almost surely out of contention after two straight defeats.
Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, who each scored twice against Spain, added to their tallies before and after Australia’s goals. Substitute Depay scored in the winner in the 68th.
After a quiet start the game burst into life on the 20th minute when Robben collected the ball near halfway, sped through a gaping hole in the Australian midfield and shot powerfully past the outstretched left foot of Maty Ryan.
But Australia equalized almost immediately, with Ryan McGowan sending a long, looping pass from the midfield to Tim Cahill, who volleyed over Jasper Cillessen onto the underside of the bar in one of the best goals of the tournament so far.
Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer, ran to the corner and punched the flag in celebration.
Mark Bresciano and Matthew Spiranovic missed chances that could have given Australia a halftime lead.
Just before the interval, Cahill needlessly clattered into the back of Bruno Martins Indi deep within the Dutch half. He got a yellow card, ensuring he can’t play against Spain after also being booked in Australia’s opening 3-1 loss to Chile. Martins Indi was helped off the field, and was replaced by Depay to start the second half.
After the break, Netherlands changed its formation from a 5-3-2 system that worked so well against Spain to a more traditional Dutch 4-3-3 style to incorporate Depay, but it was Australia which took the surprise lead with a penalty after Daryl Janmaat handled the ball in the area.
Mile Jedinak converted from the spot in the 54th to make it 2-1 but Van Persie leveled again four minutes later, collecting the ball in space on the edge of the penalty area and firing into the roof of the net.
Cahill came achingly close to giving Australia the lead when he met a cross from Mathew Leckie in the 68th, but could only chest it to the keeper.
It only took a matter of seconds before Depay fired a swerving low shot to the right of Ryan from around 25 yards to secure the three points. Netherlands leads the Group B with six points ahead of Chile’s match later Wednesday against Spain.
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