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Netherlands’ defender Daley Blind (top), views with Chile’s midfielder Charles Aranguiz during a Group B football match between Netherlands and Chile at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 23. (AFP)
Netherlands blank Chile 2-0 to secure Group B top spot Substitutes Fer, Depay score

SAO PAULO, June 23, (AFP): The Netherlands staged a late assault with goals from Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay to beat Chile 2-0 and finish top of World Cup Group B on Monday. The Dutch were left hoping that their third straight victory would help them avoid cup hosts Brazil in the second round. Fer’s first international goal on 77 minutes and Depay’s in injury time brought a rousing finish to a game often held in check by World Cup nerves. The Netherlands and Chile had both qualified for the round of 16, but top place was crucial to hopes of avoiding Brazil, who were likely to win Group A.

Both started cautiously in bright sun at a packed and noisy Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. With Robin van Persie suspended, Dynamo Kiev’s Jeremain Lens made his World Cup debut up front for the Dutch and Fenerbahce veteran Dirk Kuyt came in for Jonathan De Guzman, who was on a yellow card. Chile benched Juventus’s Arturo Vidal, who was one card away from suspension, but took a chance on fit-again midfielder Charles Aranguiz, who was also on a yellow. A slip by Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez let Chile’s first dangerous moment go begging when Aranguiz’s dummy surprised him on the edge of the box.

The Netherlands’ best early moment came when Wesley Sneijder had a long-distance free-kick parried by Claudio Bravo at his near post. Aranguiz was dispossessed twice in quick succession as the Netherlands came alive, forcing Chile into some scrambled defending. A moment of magic nearly put the Dutch ahead when on 40 minutes, Sneijder won the ball from Marcelo Diaz and fed Robben, who shrugged off Gonzalo Jara and charged forward. As Chilean defenders backed off, the Bayern Munich forward rode Gary Medel’s challenge and surged into the box but with space to shoot, he dragged his shot wide. Chile nearly took the lead a minute before half-time when Gutierrez rose to meet Diaz’s corner from deep and nodded a back-header narrowly wide.

Gutierrez gave way to Wigan Athletic’s Jean Beausejour at the break but although Sanchez tried to inject some energy, with some unproductive step-overs and a shot from distance, the second half the deadlock remained total. Just after the hour-mark, Sanchez had a penalty shout turned down by Gambian referee Bakary Gassama. Moments later the dangerou striker Sanchez then nutmegged Lens on the byline and warmed goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen’s hands with a shot from a tight angle. At the other end, Robben tried his luck from distance as the tempo and noise level rose.

Lens came off for for PSV Eindhoven forward Depay, scorer of the winner against Australia, and Chile’s Jorge Valdivia replaced Francisco Silva in the last 20 minutes. Sneijder withdrew for Fer and the Norwich City midfielder provided the spark the Dutch needed. Two minutes later, he met a Daryl Janmaat’s cross from the right with a huge leap and planted his header inside the post. Chile pressed for the equaliser and during a sequence of corners, Sanchez had another penalty shout waved away following a tangle with Dutch enforcer Nigel De Jong. But as Chile poured forward, Robben galloped into space on the left and his cross from near the byline was met by the sliding Depay to make sure of an ultimately deserved win.

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