By Steve Keating
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, June 18 (Reuters) - After exacting revenge against holders Spain in their World Cup opener the Netherlands turned their sights on settling an old score with Australia, finally getting the better of the Socceroos on a sunny Wednesday at Beira Rio stadium.
The Dutch had not beaten Australia in three previous meetings but that oversight was corrected with a thrilling 3-2 World Cup Group B win secured by a long-range strike from substitute Memphis Depay.
"I was not surprised because I believe Australia is a tough team to play against, well organised and this coach (Ange Postecoglou) is very good," said Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal. "He allows his team to play an attacking game, he exercises pressure and that is difficult for any team.
"I wasn't surprised (by Australia) but I was surprised by our careless ball possession."
For all their goalscoring brilliance it was the Dutch ability to change tactics on the fly that earned victory over the energetic and determined Australians.
After starting the match with 5-3-3 formation, Van Gaal made a tactical change at halftime, switching to the Dutch classic 1-4-3-3 lineup and the swap proved a stroke of genius - although the Dutch coach saw it as a gamble.
"I felt that Australia in the first half was the most dominating team and I wanted to change that and I was thinking better to change that at halftime," he explained.
"I took the risk and at halftime I would explain how to play a 1-4-3-3 system, this is the natural formation that every Dutch guy has grown up with and we can always switch over to that system.
"I felt that in the second half that this worked out much better and there was more pressure on the ball and we created many more opportunities so that was the solution against Australia.
"As a coach I needed to change something at halftime in order to boost their confidence. I had to change their mindset.
"Fortunately it turned out ok but it could have just as well turned out differently."
With his team failing to maintain possession and control the ball, Van Gaal noted that it would not have mattered what formation the Netherlands deployed.
The Australians, following through on Postecoglou's vow to attack, provided the Dutch with fits in the opening half.
"We simply looked at Australia as being a new match and the technical staff that it was better to play 1-5-3-2 because they would have backs that attack a lot and that turned out to be the case," said Van Gaal. "The thing is in the first half if you lose possession of the ball so simply and so often then it doesn't matter what formation you play." (Editing by Justin Palmer)