Sao Paulo: The Dutch have been here before in a World Cup. In South Africa four years ago on their way to the final, they also swept all three of their games in the first round.
But they have never been this productive in goal scoring this early: not in the days of Johan Cruyff and Total Football in the 1970s; not in the days of Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert in 1998.
The Dutch on Monday broke open a match against Chile that was long on full contact and short on open space in the 77th minute when Leroy Fer, a second-half substitute, took advantage of his first touch by scoring on a header from 6 yards out.
The Dutch struck again in added time on a counterattack when Arjen Robben made just the right cross after a long run down the left wing and Memphis Depay, another second-half substitute, stabbed it into the net with his right foot.
The goal finished off a 2-0 victory in style and confirmed that the Netherlands would finish first in Group B ahead of Chile, thereby avoiding a second-round match with Brazil.
"Really important," said Fer, whose goal was his first for the Netherlands. "We wanted to win the group to avoid some teams, but you have to win every game from here to win the title."
The Netherlands will face Mexico in the second round, and Chile, one of the upbeat stories of this World Cup, will face Brazil, the team the Dutch eliminated from the last World Cup but which is at home this time.
"For sure that's tough," said Jorge Valdivia, a Chilean midfielder. "But we Chilenos are fighters, and as much on the inside as on the outside, we are going to battle until the very end."
Mexico and its goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa have given up one goal in this cup, but the Dutch have scored 10 in their three games. Ten goals is not bad for a team that Chile's coach, Jorge Sampaoli, said was only really interested in defending.
Robben and Robin van Persie each have three goals, but Dutch coach Louis van Gaal is also getting production from the new generation. The 20-year-old Depay has scored twice, and the 24-year-old Fer, who once considered representing the Netherlands Antilles, now has his first goal for the Netherlands.
"You can say what you want, but a team who averages 3.3 goals a game is not really a defensive team," said Dirk Kuyt, the Dutch veteran. "Chile wanted to attack us, but they didn't create many chances, and in football, the most important thing is who creates the most chances and who scores the most goals. That's what we did today. We know our qualities, and everyone knows how dangerous the Dutch team is up front."
Kuyt, it should be noted, did play much more defensively than usual: setting up in a left midfield position behind the forward line instead of at wing.
Kuyt, who did not play in the first two games, said van Gaal had told him he might be used this way "a couple of weeks ago."
"So from that stage, I trained there many times," Kuyt said. "But I know what to do. I'm a player with experience. I played in many positions during my career, and we played well, so hopefully I will get another chance at the position."
It was another reaffirming afternoon for van Gaal, a strong-minded tactician who will soon take over as the manager at Manchester United and who has mixed his lineups and timed his substitutions adroitly. The only blemish was an ugly first half last week against Australia in Porto Alegre, but a second-half shift back to three forwards solved that riddle as the Dutch rallied to win, 3-2.
On Monday, playing without the team captain van Persie, who was suspended, van Gaal brought in Depay and then Fer at the right time, with Fer scoring two minutes after entering the game.
"Well, that's luck," van Gaal said. "Of course I know Leroy Fer can kick far and can really move forward vis-a-vis the opponent.
I know he's a very good header of the ball, and that way you have an advantage against Chile.
"And with Memphis, we analyzed that Chile always in the last 15 minutes give away more space, so if you field a very creative football player, you have a chance to cash in on those opportunities," van Gaal added. Chile, which beat Australia and Spain, was not at full strength without its tattooed star midfielder Arturo Vidal, who was carrying a yellow card and was rested.
But then the Dutch are hardly at full strength without van Persie. His absence left the canvas clear for others: above all Robben, the 30-year-old winger who has been playing and dribbling like a Dutchman on a mission all tournament.
"It's a fantastic result and a fantastic performance," Robben said of the Netherlands' 3-0 start in what was supposed to be a brutal group. "But it shouldn't end here."
© 2014, The New York Times News Service