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Tim Cahill stunner not enough

Even though Australia lost to the Netherlands, Tim Cahill's wonderful left-foot volley will go down as one of the sweetest World Cup strikes.

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PORTO ALEGRE: Give them the World Cup. Give it to both of them. There can be no more appropriate way of rewarding Australia and Holland for entertaining us so exquisitely, after a game that resembled a large city in its inescapable sense that something, somewhere, was always happening. It was a ball, a brawl, a banquet, a blast: more than that, though, it was a brilliant way to spend 90 minutes.

Holland edged out Australia, but that merely hinted at the scale of the spectacle. We saw the best goal of the tournament, the worst penalty decision, terrific touches, abject misjudgements. Memphis Depay's strike was a worthy winner of any game; Mat Ryan's unfortunate fumble cruel on a team who did not deserve to lose it.

The Dutch have all but qualified for the last 16, but Australia opened up fissures in their team that Spain did not. The Dutch dam, it seems, is not impregnable. Australia are out thanks to Spain's defeat to Chile, but they can be fiercely proud of the memories they created. When Tim Cahill is 85, television crews will still be turning up outside his house to interview him about that goal.

Special moment: Tim Cahill celebrates his goal.

Special moment: Tim Cahill celebrates his goal. Photo: Reuters

Arjen Robben put Holland ahead after a lethal dash from the halfway line in the 20th minute. In any other game, it would have been the highlight. Here, it was merely the prologue. Before the stadium PA even had time to announce it, while television were still showing a man in a kangaroo hat cursing in slow motion, came a moment that sport-loving Australians - and really, there is no other kind - will never forget.

Here is what happened: Matt Leckie won the ball in midfield, nudging it into the path of right-back Ryan McGowan, who crossed first time. As the ball sailed over, the Dutch defence did not look overly alarmed. But Cahill was peeling away, watching the flight, planning his next move.

With his weaker left foot fully extended and beautifully straight, Cahill smashed the ball on the volley, sending it cannoning off the bar, bouncing off the goal-line and into the roof of the net for added dramatic effect. The immediate reaction was not bliss, but bewilderment. By the time Cahill reached the corner flag, punching it to the ground, the stadium had erupted in the shared experience of a deeply special moment.

Cynical: Cahill earns a yellow card for this cluttering tackle on Bruno Martins Indi.

Cynical: Cahill earns a yellow card for this cluttering tackle on Bruno Martins Indi. Photo: AFP

When something like that happens, it lifts everyone. Every so often, the black and white of everyday existence is splashed with the colour of the unthinkable. If Tim Cahill can score a goal like that, imagine what the rest of us could do with our lives? We could see the world, learn languages, become the people we always dreamed of being. You could see it in the Australians, too. If Tim can do that, what can the rest of us do?

And so over the next few minutes, the stunned Dutch watched as Australia laid siege. Mark Bresciano blazed a glorious chance over the bar. Matthew Spiranovic headed over. The second half saw Louis van Gaal switch from five at the back to four after a head injury to Bruno Martins Indi.

Van Gaal's switch put greater pressure on their fullbacks, and when Oliver Bozanic charged down the left wing and crossed on 52 minutes, Daryl Janmaat was penalised for possessing a hand, which was at his side when it was hit by the ball. All of a sudden Australia had a penalty. Mile Jedinak buried it, turning the match and received footballing wisdom on its head.

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands controls the ball on his way to scoring his team's first goal during the Group B match between Australia and Netherlands. Click for more photos

World Cup 2014: Australia v the Netherlands highlights

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands controls the ball on his way to scoring his team's first goal during the Group B match between Australia and Netherlands. Photo: Getty Images

Australia's lead lasted four minutes. Depay, on for Martins Indi, played a super reverse ball through to Robin van Persie, Jason Davidson carelessly playing him offside. Van Persie was eight yards out with the goal gaping. He does not miss those.

Still the Australians came. Matt McKay opted to cross when in clear sight of goal, and in hindsight that was probably the turning point. Holland went straight up the other end, Depay fired a low swerving shot from 25 yards, and Ryan could only palm the ball into his own net.

So there we were. One of the great World Cup group games. And as if to cement it for posterity, two of its main protagonists will miss the next game. Van Persie was lucky to stay on the pitch after a crunching challenge on Jedinak, having already seen yellow for a raised arm on Spiranovic.

The entree: Arjen Robben's opening goal for the Dutch.

The entree: Arjen Robben's opening goal for the Dutch. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, Cahill exhibited his cynical side by felling Martins Indi with a shoulder charge, putting him in hospital with suspected concussion. Cahill's yellow card ruled him out of the next match, but in truth he should probably consider retiring after this one.

The Telegraph, London