Wonder goal in vain: Tim Cahill.

Wonder goal in vain: Tim Cahill. Photo: AFP

Another glorious defeat. Better than Chile, but not quite good enough to beat a Dutch team which, in fairness, didn't ask big questions of the Socceroos for long periods, in most areas. There's progress, but not on the scoreboard. Australia can't keep out the goals, and can't score enough of them. Four defeats in six games (including friendlies) now for Ange Postecoglou. There's no mercy at this level, and successive defeats means the World Cup dream is over after two games. Which was always to be expected. 

The bonuses have been in the way the Socceroos have improved their ball retention, the improvement in a handful of individuals, and the team spirit. Then, of course, there's the goals of Tim Cahill. This one - a left-foot volley when he was one against three getting on the end of a hopeful punt upfield from Ryan McGowan - perhaps the best he's ever scored.

The negatives are in what the coaching fraternity likes to describe as the 'one percents'. Dreadful set pieces. Poor decision-making. Matthew Spiranovic not going towards the ball before it was too late, allowing Arjen Robben to pick his spot. Tommy Oar refusing to shoot with the goal at his mercy, allowing the Dutch to sweep up the other end to score. Mat Ryan was too slow to get down to what proved to be the match-winner from Memphis Depay.

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

Crestfallen was the emotion among the Socceroos at the final whistle. Relief was the feeling on the Dutch bench. This was their first win over Australia in four starts, and it will take them through to the knockout stage. Encouraged by circumstance to switch to the time-honoured 4-3-3 when defender Bruno Martins Indi was stretchered off just before half-time, Louis van Gaal might decide his flirtation with the contentious 5-3-2 is over. Depay, the player he brought on, scored the winner, while the rest of the team visibly relaxed. The 4-3-3 for any Dutch player of the last three or four generations is like an old jumper. Familiar, comfortable, and you know exactly how it's going to fit.

Australia persevered with the 4-2-3-1 Posteoglou seems to prefer, with two changes forced by injury. Ryan McGowan came in at right back for Ivan Franjic, while Matt McKay replaced Mark Milligan in central midfield. McGowan looked nervy, especially when the Dutch played with wingers in the second half. McKay was solid, uncompromising, and generally tidy in possession. The most versatile player in the squad deserves to keep his place, and hopefully het gets another chance in the role which suits his game.

The Socceroos will be without Cahill against Spain, his second yellow card for his late challenge on Martins Indi as costly as it was unnecessary. But that's what you get with Cahill. White line fever. Without it, he wouldn't be the same.

Postecoglou, ultimately, is accountable for his selections, and on the evidence of the two games in Brazil it may well be that he didn't get his defensive options right. No real cover for Ivan Franjic - both Luke Wilkshire and Josh Brillante didn't make the final cut - while there are arguments that Jade North, Matt Smith and perhaps Osama Malik might all have offered better depth in central defence.

Harsh lessons have been learned. Incrementally, the signs are that they are being taken on board. On another day, Robin van Persie might have received a second yellow card for his lunge at Mile Jedinak. On another day Spiranovic might have got more contact on his side-foot shot on goal. On another day Ryan might have got enough glove on the ball to tip Depay's shot around the post. If only.

With any luck, the team which finished this game is the one which will start the next one against Spain. Adam Taggart up front, with Ben Halloran and Matthew Leckie out wide, and Oliver Bozanic in the playmaking role. Bozanic was the highlight performance from the Socceroos, coming on early in the second half to replace Mark Bresciano. Nigel de Jong monstered Bresciano. Bozanic, in some clutch moments, monstered de Jong. He was strong, energetic, and he played forward rather than square. It was a statement performance from a player who, curiously, has taken too long to convince the coaching staff of his worth.

So the Socceroos can prepare to go home, defeated but not deflated. They have pushed Chile and The Netherlands harder than many had expected, and are clearly evolving from the dour, defensive, style preferred by previous coaches. The missing ingredient is results.