Late Klass-Jan Huntelaar penalty breaks Mexican heart as Netherlands book their place in the Quarter-finals after conceding the lead in the first half.
Netherlands are now one step closer to repeat their path to the final of World Cup in 2010 as they defeat a resilient Mexico in the round of 16 clash at Fortaleza. For Mexico, this was their 6th round of 16 exit in a row, since 1994.
The match started well for the North American nation and they were the better team in the first half. Miguel Herrera’s men looked dangerous in attack and solid at the back with Netherlands failing to get a grip of the game. They took a deserved lead after half-time as Giovanni dos Santos scored with a well-placed shot from outside the box.
But after taking the lead, Mexico began to sit back and allowed Netherlands to dominate possession. Miguel Herrera made a few tactical changes and it looked as if they were happy with the 1-0 lead and aspired to protect it till the 90th minute. This defensive tactics ultimately proved costly as Louis van Gaal saw the opportunity and made a few changes of his own.
The newly appointed Manchester United manager, who has earned a lot of praise in this World Cup for his tactical nous and game changing substitutions, replaced Robin van Persie with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and paired him with Dirk Kuyt at the top. As the Mexicans dropped deep, Netherlands began to launch long balls into the box with two strikers looking to cause problems, and it was only the brilliance of Guillermo Ochoa which protected Mexico’s lead for a long period.
But Ochoa could do nothing about Wesley Sniejder’s equalizer in the 88th minute. The goal arrived from a corner which Mexico failed to deal with properly and as the second ball fell to the Dutch midfielder, he rifled in a volley into the back of the net. It was the beginning of the end for Mexico as two minutes later Holland were awarded a penalty kick.
Arjen Robben fell into the box after Rafael Marquez challenged him for the ball and failed to win it. Huntelaar stepped up to take the resultant spot kick and he provided Netherlands with the lead with only seconds remaining in the clock. There was no time for a Mexican comeback and Netherlands booked their place in the next round where they will face Costa Rica.
Louis van Gaal was delighted with his team’s performance and revealed that the cooling break helped him in making the required tactical changes in the game.
“I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save.
“Then I moved to plan B and yes, I did that in the cooling break, that is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks.
“Did you see what I did?”
“Van Gaal brought on target man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, took Dirk Kuyt out of defence to partner him in attack and had his team pump long balls into the Mexico penalty area.
“It’s a big compliment that my players picked up on it immediately. We have a modest group of players but they have outstanding team spirit and this is ultimately what led to the victory.
“They had faith and believed till the very end. The humidity was not in our favour. We were fresher and fitter than the Mexicans.
“Not only did my players have belief that they could perform today, they also were fit for this match.
“Yes, it was an escape but in the second half we showed that we could create more opportunities and we played three different systems.” – The Netherlands manager said after the match.
Van Gaal also cleared doubts about the fitness of Robin van Persie, who was substituted in the second half, and insisted that it was a tactical change.
“I took him off for tactical reasons.”– He added.