Today’s match day brought us the enticing matchup between the free-flowing Netherlands and the passionate and fired-up Mexico. The Dutch entered the match as the favorites after an impressive run through the group stage, but the Mexicans entered the game passionate and ready to run. Progression through past tournaments is a tale of two teams. Holland finished runners-up to Spain in their last campaign (for the third time in their history), whereas Mexico has been eliminated in the Round of 16 in their past 5 tournaments. Could El Tri use their energetic attack to drive past the Oranje?
Mexico started off in their typical fashion, with their wingbacks, especially Miguel Layun, getting up the pitch and getting balls into the box to test the shaky Netherlands keeper, Cillessen, who almost gifted a goal to the Red and Green after shanking a ball off the side of his foot. Much to his relief, though, it fell graciously to a Dutch midfielder.
Then a minute later, disaster struck for the Netherlands. In only the 9th minute, van Gaal was forced to use one of his 3 substitutions after Nigel de Jong was forced to withdraw himself from the game after tweaking a muscle. He was replaced by Martins Indi. A big blow for the Orange, who rely on the midfielder to break up play and do the dirty work in the middle of the field.
The first chance of the match fell to El Tri. The danger man, Giovani dos Santos, got to the byline and cut the ball back, albeit a little bit behind the onrushing Oribe Peralta. He then slid the ball to Miguel Herrera, but he could not get the ball far enough from under his feet and dragged his shot wide. He really should have done better; it was a golden chance for El Tri.
The Netherlands looked slow throughout much of the half, but the speedy Arjen Robben was a shining light. He constantly looked to get down the flanks, and it seemed that the only way Mexico knew how to stop it was to hack him down, and if you have ever watched Robben play, you know that he needs no invitation to hit the ground. He got frustrated, though, by the referee’s lack of sympathy for the dramatic winger, even when he was actually kicked.
Towards the end of the half were two golden chances, one for either side. A clever flick by Peralta found Guardado streaking through the defense. His touch let him down, but that did not matter as dos Santos latched onto the loose ball. Finding himself 1 v 1 with the keeper, he fired from a tight angle and was denied. Shortly thereafter, Robin van Persie ran at the Mexican defense. He slid a ball into Robben on the left side, whose pace caused fits for the centerbacks. First, Rafa Marquez nipped his foot and tripped him up, after that, Moreno came through with a reckless slide tackle and sent Robben flying. Clear penalty on both challenges, but the ref was unimpressed by both. One of the few times Robben doesn’t seem to flop, he doesn’t get the call.
The second half began with a BANG! Gio dos Santos latched onto a ball about 28 yards out and smashed a well-placed shot into the bottom left corner, giving the keeper no chance. 1-0 to Mexico, and El Tri were truly looking like the better team.
Holland looked sure to equalize in the 57th minute after De Vrij got his head onto a Robben corner. The ball then smacked into a stunned Ochoa and flew into the post, and out again. So unlucky for the Dutch, and perhaps the bit of fortune Mexico needed.
In my opinion, a bad substitution was utilized by Mexico’s coach, Herrera, in the 61st minute. Starlet Gio dos Santos was replaced by Aquino, a predominantly defensive minded player. It seemed that Mexico were looking to park the bus, but surely it was too early to do that?
After that substitution, the Netherlands began to get forward with little to no resistance. Mexico was dropping all of their players back in an attempt to ride out the orange storm. Robben continuously got up the sides and cut in, as he loves to do, but after a good run in the 73rd minute, was stoned by an impressive Memo Ochoa.
Holland was really going for the game, as they needed to. With Depay already on for Verhaegh (a defender), Klaas Jan Huntelaar came on for Robin van Persie. What could van Gaal be thinking? He was taking off one of the most clinical finishers in the world in a time where he needed goals fast. Surely it wouldn’t work.
In the 88th minute, Mexico’s nightmares came true. A Dutch corner bounced out to the top of the 18, where Wesley Sneijder was waiting. He struck clean through the ball and smashed an absolute rocket towards goal, leaving the seemingly unbeatable Ochoa to watch the back of the net bulge. It was 1-1, and the Netherlands would be feeling like they could win it!
The referee signaled 6 minutes of stoppage time (partially due to the water break midway through each half), and the Netherlands took advantage. Robben got down the right side again, and was too quick for the experienced Rafa Marquez. After cutting in on the byline, he was stepped on by Marquez. Sure, Robben fell down like he had been shot, but it was definitely a foul, and one that the ref will call 95% of the time, especially after missing the clear cut one at the end of the 1sthalf. Rafa Marquez received a yellow, and up stepped the substitute, Huntelaar, to take the spot kick.
With all the pressure on his shoulders, he made no mistake. He coolly stepped up and made Ochoa go the wrong way, burying the ball into the lower left corner. 2-1 to the Flying Dutchmen, and it seemed like there was no way back for El Tri!
The ref blew his whistle, and that was it. Emotional scenes in Fortaleza, as the Mexican players, coaches, and fans could understandably not believe what had happened. They had looked the better side for long stretches of the match, but met their downfall after playing way too defensively and letting Holland come at them relentlessly. It was Mexico’s 6th straight loss in the Round of 16, but it will surely give the Netherlands confidence. They have a favorable bracket going forward, and after crashing out of Euro 2012, could be a side that is looking to make a run at the Cup. Maybe the 4th time is the charm..?