PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) - The unenviable task of stopping the rampant Dutch strike force from adding to the five goals it put past Spain was made even harder for Australian coach Ange Postecoglou on Tuesday when midfielder Mark Milligan was ruled out with a hamstring strain.
The coach had already had to rejig his inexperienced defensive lineup after Ivan Franjic pulled a hamstring against Chile, ending his competition.
Postecoglou is clear on one thing: trying to contain the Netherlands and hit back on the counter or play for a draw will be pointless.
“We have said right from the start that’s not why we came to the World Cup (although) obviously we will have to be strong defensively because the Dutch are very dangerous going forward,” he said Tuesday ahead of the Group B match that his team needs to win to realistically stay in the World Cup.
“It will be an enormous challenge for us to stop their attacking game, but the other side of that is if we just try and defend for 90 minutes there will be only one result - and it won’t be in our favor.”
Given perhaps the toughest draw in the competition, lowly-ranked Australia was always going to be up against it in its third consecutive World Cup. The mostly young team lost 3-1 against Chile after conceding two early goals, but fought back strongly and dominated for much of the second half.
Now Australia finds itself having to fend off the attacking duo of Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, who shone in their team’s stunning opening 5-1 win against Spain.
An Australian victory would be one of the great shocks of the World Cup, especially given the Dutch performance last week.
But there was no sign that Postecoglou, who only took over the national side in October, was overawed.
“We keep saying we want to measure ourselves against the best, and we are getting an opportunity to do that,” he said. “Tomorrow we will find out where we are at.”
Captain Mile Jedinak said the team had learnt from its poor start against Chile.
“The key part was the response,” said the Crystal Palace captain, noting that for much of the team it was the biggest game of their lives. “I know that will drive the boys going forward.”
Australia’s so called “Golden Generation” got out of the group stage in the 2006 World Cup, powered by a coterie of players who had experience playing in top flight English football. It went out in the group stage in 2010 after a heavy defeat to Germany in its opening match. Since then, the team has struggled to replace its older players with younger talent.
The Socceroos have been twice coached by Dutchmen - Guus Hiddink and Pim Veerbank - in the last decade and its current technical director is also from the Netherlands. Postecoglou said he hoped that might help the team, if only a little.
“From that perspective we have an understanding of how the Dutch play the game,” he said.