14 June 2014

Sanchez leads Chile to 3-1 win over Australia

Watch out Spain: Chile and its star striker Alexis Sanchez are looking like a serious threat at the World Cup.

Carrying over his prolific form this season for Barcelona, Sanchez scored one goal and set up another to lead Chile to a 3-1 win over Australia in stifling conditions in Cuiaba on Friday.

It was a patchy but ultimately satisfying opening performance in Group B for the Chileans, who are dangerous outsiders in Brazil after their impressive run of results over the past 18 months.

And they now have the opportunity to make a real dent in the tournament - a win over Spain on Wednesday would virtually guarantee eliminating the reigning champions, who slumped to a stunning 5-1 loss to the Netherlands earlier Friday.

"They have a superlative history in (major tournaments) ... I don't think it will be a defeat that defines the path of the Spanish team," said Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, whose side drew 2-2 with Spain in a friendly last year. "It will certainly be an electrifying game."


Boasting its best ever squad for a World Cup, Chile has been strongly tipped by many - including Pele - to go far despite being thrown in the same group as two of Europe's top teams.

And the Spanish, ripped apart by the Dutch in Salvador, will not be relishing playing Sampaoli's side with their title defense on the line.

Especially with Sanchez in this form.

Constantly teasing the Australian defense, he poked home a close-range finish in the 12th minute, before setting up Jorge Valdivia about 70 seconds after the restart for the playmaker to finish high into the net from the edge of the area.

A young Australia team - the lowest-ranked nation in Brazil and written off by most before a ball had been kicked - looked in danger of falling apart but the experienced Tim Cahill brought them back into the game with a trademark header in the 35th.


Cahill, dominant in the air throughout, had several chances to equalize before and after halftime as Chile perhaps became complacent and slipped off the pace at a muggy Arena Pantanal.

But a drilled, low shot by substitute Jean Beausejour settled the match in the second minute of injury time, sending the Chilean bench running onto the pitch in elation and making fans set off fireworks in scenes that made for a great atmosphere but will likely displease organizers.

"Early on, we were probably just overawed by the whole thing," Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. "In the end, we gave away a two-goal start and that's what killed us."

Sanchez, coming off the best season of his career at club level with 21 goals for Barca, is a potential star of the World Cup and has the ability to run ragged a Spain defense that unraveled against the Dutch.

"Alexis is always the plus for us," Sampaoli said. "His high standing, his personality, what he brings to the team, we are glad to have him in our team."

Just as important for Sampaoli was the sight of leading midfielder Arturo Vidal starting and playing 59 minutes on his return from knee surgery undertaken a month ago.

Australia, meanwhile, will take heart from the way the team responded to a dreadful start.

Unsurprisingly it was Cahill who led the recovery, using his aerial domination over diminutive marker Gary Medel to head in his record-extending 33rd national-team goal. The New York Red Bulls forward also had a header ruled out for a marginal offside in the second half.

"There is no one in the tournament who would like to be one-on-one with him." Postecoglou said. "The only way they could stop him in end was to hold on to his shirt."

Still, Chile came through and Spain is sure to be wary of the south Americans next week.

By STEVE DOUGLAS
The Associated Press



Netherlands thrashes Spain 5-1 in World Cup opener

Louis van Gaal, one of the game's greatest coaches, was criticized before the World Cup for being too defensive for a nation that loves attacking play.

His decision to field five defenders against Spain though, proved a masterstroke.

His team thrashed the defending world champions 5-1 Friday with a clinical display of counterattacking football that had Spain chasing shadows at the end as Dutch fans roared "Ole!" each time their team passed the ball.

"If you see how he prepared us, and how he predicted the game would go, and you see how it went - unbelievable," said Robin van Persie whose stunning header to equalize just before half time turned the tide of the match and lit up social media accounts around the world. "It went exactly as the entire technical staff predicted."


It was Spain's worst loss in the tournament since a 6-1 defeat to Brazil in 1950.

In the day's other matches, Chile beat Australia 3-1, leaving Spain at the bottom of Group B. In Group A, Mexico edged Cameroon 1-0 on a 61st-minute goal by Oribe Peralta to take second spot behind Brazil.

But it was the Dutch performance that shocked even casual fans on the second day of World Cup, showing why Manchester United was so keen to sign Van Gaal to rebuild the storied club.

He starts work at Old Trafford when the Netherlands leave Brazil. If they keep playing this way, he could keep Manchester fans waiting until mid-July.

The 62-year-old Dutchman has a history of getting the best out of teams and blending youth with experience, taking Ajax to the Champions League title in 1995.

He is bidding to make the Netherlands world champions for the first time after losing three finals - including four years ago when Andres Iniesta's extra-time goal won it for Spain.

It wasn't shocking for the Dutch to get revenge for that loss, but the way they demolished Spain - the dominant world football power since 2008 - sent a signal that the run of this generation of Spanish stars may be coming to an end.


Spain, which won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, will probably have to beat Chile and Australia to qualify for the next round, where a likely date with favorite Brazil awaits.

"They were better than us in the second half, you have to recognize that," Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. "It's a delicate moment for us. We need to find solutions now."

Spain showed flashes of its slick-passing, ball-control, "tiki-taka" style, but never recovered from Van Persie's masterful goal.

"The equalizer was very crucial at that point," Netherlands midfielder Jonathan de Guzman said. "I think we took advantage of that."

In the second half, Spain's usually rock solid defense crumbled in the face of wave after wave of Dutch attacks, many starting off of long passes from defenders.

Veteran goalie Iker Casillas shouldered the blame.

"It wasn't one of my best games, I wasn't at the level I needed to be," he said. "I have to accept all criticism."

Van Gaal always insisted his five-man defense wasn't as negative as it sounded, and he was proved right.

Left back Daley Blind surged forward to provide two pin-point accurate passes for assists - Van Persie's header and Arjen Robben's first goal. Center back Stefan de Vrij, who caused the penalty that gave Spain the lead, cropped up at the other end of the pitch to push in Wesley Sneijder's free kick for de Vrij's first international score.

Even Van Gaal was stunned by the margin of victory.

"To be quite honest, we did not expect it," he said. "This has got to do with strategy and the dedication of the players to execute with conviction."

Fitness also appeared to play a role in Spain's second-half collapse. While the veteran Spanish players tired, the Dutch still looked fresh despite the humidity at the Arena Fonte Nova.

Van Persie's header is an early contender for goal of the tournament.

As Blind's 40-yard pass sailed toward him, the striker glanced up and saw Casillas off his line and in no-man's-land. Van Persie dived full-length and sent a looping header over the stranded goalie and slid on his stomach on the wet grass before running to the sidelines with his fists clenched to exchange a high five with Van Gaal.


"Unbelievable," Van Persie said of the victory. "For the whole Netherlands, this is a dream come true."

Robben had a masterful goal of his own, reaching high to stop a long Blind pass with his left leg, cutting back quickly with his right as defender Gerard Pique spun out of position, and scoring with his left as Sergio Ramos dove toward him.

If Robben hadn't yet buried the memory of his crucial miss in the 2010 final - he helped Bayern win the Champions League in 2013 - his play Friday should do it.

"This is just pure enjoyment," he said. "I'm top fit this season and this is a beautiful confirmation of that."

By MIKE CORDER 
The Associated Press


Peralta scores in Mexico's 1-0 win over Cameroon

With torrential rain pouring down and two goals already contentiously disallowed, tens of thousands of soggy but boisterous Mexico fans were getting nervous.

They had already started chanting for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the striker benched in favor of Oribe Peralta, to come on and deliver a game winner.

Seconds after the chant began, Peralta scored in the 61st minute to help Mexico to a 1-0 victory Friday and the three points it needed to have any chance of advancing from a tough Group A at the World Cup.

Peralta's goal gave Mexico its first win over an African team at the World Cup and justified coach Miguel Herrera's faith that he could deliver on the biggest stage in the world.

A non-factor most of the first half, Peralta broke the deadlock with his left foot after Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje parried Giovanni Dos Santos' attempt from the edge of the area.


The goal relieved the pressure that had been building steadily after Dos Santos had two goals disallowed in the first half, frustrating the Mexican team that was controlling the game with its speed and ball possession.

"We could have scored more, but unfortunately we're not used to these conditions," Herrera said. "Frankly, the refereeing took away two clear goals, but at the end of the day you've got to work for it, and we get to the next match with three points and very high spirits."

Tournament host and favorite Brazil leads the group after a 3-1 win over Croatia in the opening game. Mexico plays Brazil on Tuesday in Fortaleza.

While the heat was expected to be an issue in this balmy coastal city, rain soaked the field at the new Arena das Dunas starting about four hours before the match and never let up, creating a cool day but a slick surface.

Mexico players said the field held up well and the conditions favored their style of play.

"We are ready to play in any type of circumstances," Dos Santos said. "We worked the ball well and it was extraordinary to have the rain."

The rain never dampened the spirits of the Mexico fans who arrived hours early, dominated the announced crowd of 39,216 and kept up their cheers and taunts throughout the match.

"They made us feel like locals," Herrera said, comparing the atmosphere with Mexico's home stadium. "It felt a little bit like Azteca."

Those cheers were sounding nervous as the game remained scoreless deep into the second half.

Dos Santos had twice put the ball in the net in the first half only to have both efforts called back. He was ruled offside in the 11th minute and his header from a corner in the 29th was denied when referee Wilmar Roldan apparently called a foul in front of Itandje.

His work done, Peralta was taken off in the 74th minute for Hernandez, who nearly doubled Mexico's lead minutes later. But Hernandez misfired a volley and sent it over the net. While a tough shot, the miss punctuated Hernandez' scoring drought. Peralta, on the other hand, is growing in confidence and keen to add to the gold medal he picked up with Mexico at the London Olympics.

"I want to score as many goals as possible," Peralta said, "to take advantage of every opportunity that I get because I want to be a world champion again."

Cameroon seldom tested Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa until forcing him to make a late victory-clinching save with a dive to his left to stop a header by Benjamin Moukandjo.

The save was yet another big payoff for Herrera, who started Ochoa after the `keeper had been a reserve at the last two World Cups.

At the final whistle, Herrera kneeled, crossed himself and pumped his right fist. Cameroon coach Volker Finke stood with his arms crossed, scowling as the rain dripped off his face.

For Cameroon, the lackluster performance will only magnify controversies back home over a player bonus pay dispute that delayed their arrival in Brazil, and will raise more questions about whether they're a fractured team.

The loss also leaves Cameroon needing a victory over group rival Croatia before closing first-round play against Brazil.

"We have five days to recover," Finke said. "We will analyze this together because the match against Croatia is very important if we want to stay alive".

By JIM VERTUNO 
The Associated Press