The Group B winners versus the Group A runners-up. Netherlands vs Mexico. The Dutch were favourites but Mexico were in with a shout in this game and they had proved to a team that must not be underestimated. Mexico had made it to the R/16 in their previous 7 appearances, but had not made it past the second round in their last 5. Louis Van Gaal welcomed back Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt earned his 100th cap, but the most notable news was that Daryl Janmaat, who has been the Oranje’s most consistent player, was dropped in favour of Verhaeg. For the Mexicans, Calcido made his 122nd appearance. Fortaleza was pumping, but the blistering heat would make it difficult for both teams, more so the Europeans.
It was a cagey and compact effort, as Mexico seemed to control the ball while the Netherlands were more than happy to sit back. Tragedy struck early on, as Nigel De Jong limped off within 9 minutes, apparently he pulled a muscle. Bruno “Eyes” Martins Indi came on and Netherlands shifted back to their traditional World Cup 5-3-2, with Dirk Kuyt shuttling on the left. It was a dry match with very few chances, and Gio Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta kept Vlaar and Co. alert at all times. Layun ran rings around Verhaeg and Calcido and Kuyt were the pick of the players. The moment of the half came when Marquez did a Gerrard and the ball went to van Persie who played it to Robben, who was fouled twice by two players, but the referee did not give anything. At halftime, Mexico looked more promising and the game was begging for a goal.
In the second half, we got the goal. It was Giovani Dos Santos. A real belter to put the Mexicans up ahead and his first goal for 2 years could not have come at a better time. He latched onto a loose ball some 20 yards out, took Ron Vlaar out of the equation and bulleted it home past Cillessen. Another upset on the cards? Given what we had seen, we’d say Mexico deserved the lead and were on course for an upset. The Netherlands pulled it up a notch, and started to attack more. Heroics from Ochoa to deny De Vrij from 3 yards out and Robben from an acute angle. Memphis Depay was sent in for Paul Verhaeg and the right back had a game to forget. The game became more stretched, and the Dutch kept on prompting and probing, but all in vain. Robin van Persie was brought off for Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Oribe Peralta was taken off for Chicharito. The game was getting away from the Dutch and now Mexico were on the verge of creating history. Then came Netherlands’ 10th corner. Arjen Robben delivered it in, to be knocked down by Huntelaar, leaving it for Wesley Sneijder to hammer it in. Ochoa was beaten, Mexican hearts were shattered. It was what Miguel Herrera feared and what van Gaal so badly desired. 6 minutes were added on at the end of the regulation time and what followed was dramatic, to say the least. Robben had being doing what he does best (no it is not diving); running rings around the defenders. He skillfully got to the goal line and was tripped by veteran Rafael Marquez, who should’ve known better than to foul a player in the box, in the 92nd minute, and that too Robben, who wouldn’t wait to do a Neymar. A penalty was awarded and it seemed Louis van Gaal’s men would do it now. Klaas Jan Huntelaar stepped up, and as cool as a cucumber, he screwed it into the bottom corner to give the Dutch a victory. Top Klaas stuff. In a match where he had only 8 touches, it was commendable that he gave one assist and scored one goal.
The Dutch made a remarkable comeback, the new United manager did it in United style. The Netherlands have now turned their last four World Cup games in which they fell behind in regular time into a victory. They joined the elite 8 of the WC and now Costa Rica/Greece await them. Refereeing problems again, as Robben should’ve got a penalty in the first half and should have got a yellow for simulation in the second half. Sadly, these decisions, broke the game for Mexico, and even the most ardent Holland fan must agree, it wasn’t a penalty. That being said, the Dutch did deserve it, as their attacking instincts and constant pressure finally paid off. To end with the cliche – Netherlands won the game, Mexico won our hearts.
FIFA Man Of The Match: Guillermo Ochoa
Another fantastic display from the free agent, he kept Mexico in the contest when they were hanging on to the lead by producing several stunning saves. He was helpless for the two goals, however.
Our Man Of The Match: Arjen Robben
The first half was undoubtedly his poorest 45 minutes of the World Cup, but after Mexico scored, he stepped up a gear and he looked imperious, forcing Mexico to double up on him to no effect. Won the penalty and ended up being the decisive Dutch attacker. Arjen Robben has won five penalties in 14 Champions League + World Cup games this season. Needless to say, he’s an expert. Superb performance by the winger, all the same..
Our Flop Of The Match: Rafael Márquez
Composed as ever when in possession, but he was an unmitigated disaster at times when defending. He continued to jump into tackles and he ended up giving away the penalty with a clumsy foul. Not a good way to end what had been a very good tournament for the captain.