By Peter Rutherford
SAO PAULO, June 23 (Reuters) - Missing talismanic striker Robin van Persie, the Netherlands looked a pale imitation of the side that stuck five goals past Spain in their Group B opener, but Monday's 2-0 win over Chile proved they can grind out victories without him.
Even if it means winning ugly.
The striker had set the tournament alight with his superb diving header against Spain, and the Dutch felt his absence keenly in Sao Paulo with replacement Jeremain Lens struggling to impose himself on the Chilean defence.
Not until the introduction of Memphis Depay in the 69th minute did the Netherlands pose a scoring threat, his swerving shot tipped over by Claudio Bravo and Leroy Fer heading home from the resulting corner with his first touch of the World Cup.
A trademark blistering run and cross by Arjen Robben set up Depay to tap home the Netherlands' second, maintaining their 100 percent record in the group and meaning they are likely to avoid hosts Brazil in the last 16.
Chile complained their opponents had been overly defensive, playing for the draw that would win the group but Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said the ends justified the means.
"You have got to develop a strategy that will let you win," he said, taking exception to a reporter's question about his tactics.
"We are not giving much away and we are creating opportunities.
"This is being confirmed by the results, if it wasn't then you'd chop off my head, I'm sure of it."
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder also defended his team's tactics.
"It was up to Chile to create something against it and they couldn't create anything," he said.
"They didn't create any chances today, so it's a compliment for our team and it's a little bit disrespectful to say that we didn't do anything today because we were the ones who won 2-0."
Chile, roared on by foaming red swathes of supporters, dominated the game possession-wise but did very little with it.
With Arturo Vidal, the man who makes them tick in midfield, short of fitness and left on the bench, Chile lacked a cutting edge and managed just a solitary shot on target.
The Dutch defence rarely ventured forward and midfielders Dirk Kuyt and Georginio Wijnaldum were quick to funnel back to protect the full backs, preventing Chile from getting in behind with nippy strikers Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.
The tactic stymied any chance of free-flowing football and squeezed the life out of the game, but man-of-the-match Robben took pride in the way the Netherlands nullified Chile's attack.
"It was a very good game to watch, there was a lot of passion on the pitch and we defended really well," he said.
"I am proud of the way the team defended." (Editing by)
- Sports & Recreation
- Robin van Persie
- Arjen Robben