Last Friday the Netherlands put in what is still probably the best performance of any team in the still-young World Cup. Their 5-1 dismantling of Spain was both stunning and inevitable. The former because the result was so unexpected, and the latter because the Netherlands played so well that any other result seems unthinkable. Of course at the heart of that performance was the exceptional work done by the Dutch attack, including Robin van Persie scoring a goal that none of us who saw it will ever forget.
Lost in the glory of five goals, though, is the fact that the Dutch used what was widely considered to be a shaky defense to hold Spain to only one goal, and even that came as the result of a pretty dubious penalty. The nearly flawless defensive performance was led by Ron Vlaar, who did what we saw him do all season at Aston Villa: marshall a young and inexperienced back line to get results that were probably better than should have been expected.
Preview the Match
Preview the Match
Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi were busy being infurated by the antics of Diego Costa, and Indi in particular looks as if he were ready to get a red card just for a chance at the Spaniard. But Vlaar kept his cool throughout the match, making a few key saves, and seemingly always finding himself in the right position for his team.
Even if Dutch manager Louis van Gaal decides to switch to a formation that only uses two center backs (though heaven only knows why he would after the resounding success the team had in their first match), Vlaar should be in line for the start against Australia later today. And luckily for him, the Socceroos (Hopping their way into history!) won't prove to be quite as tough a match as the Spanish.
That's not to say that they are toothless, however. In Australia's match against Chile, there were moments where the 'Roos looked awfully dangerous, and Tim Cahill is a genuine threat to find the back of the net at any point in this tournament. The Australian team mounted a stunning attempt at a comeback which is obscured by the 3-1 scoreline that includes a late stoppage time Chilean goal.
Nevertheless, if Vlaar and his teammates can play anywhere near as well as they did against Spain, the Dutch defense should have no trouble with Australia, and the attack could very well eviscerate the Socceroos. In some ways, that's a shame. This Australian team is one that should be a lot of fun to watch, but thanks to the group they're in, they'll be fortunate to get even a point.
But for Aston Villa fans, it's good news. We've only got one player that we can reliably expect to see in this Cup, and we might as well get to see him do superbly well. Let's all hope Ron Vlaar plays out of his mind again, but once again gets overshadowed by the rest of his team. That way we'll be happy, and no one else will notice his great work.