Fortaleza provided the venue for an intriguing second round clash between Holland and Mexico which promised to be a wonderful game in keeping with the enthralling end-to-end football that has made the 2014 World Cup one of the best in modern history. Holland came into the game with a 100% record from Group B, with resounding victories over Spain and Chile illustrating that Louis Van Gaal’s team mean business and have key men, in particular Arjen Robben, firing on all cylinders. Their North American opponents came through Group A in impressive fashion, with a goal-less draw against Brazil and dominant victories over Croatia and Cameroon being a far cry from a turbulent spell which included several managerial changes and a poor qualifying campaign. Miguel Herrera’s side more than held their own against Brazil, and produce impressive performances that illustrated they have no fear and should not be under-estimated by any means.
What promised to be an exciting team between two of the most impressive teams at the World Cup duly delivered as both contributed to a titanic battle packed with high quality football and controversy. As the momentum of the game went from one end of the pitch to the other, it changed the entire complexion of odds across the betting market.
Both teams would have been forgiven for being more reserved than usual and respecting each other, but Holland and Mexico took the game to each other right from the first whistle. While Holland looked to put their foot on the ball, it was Mexico who carried the much greater threat with winger Miguel Layun – arguably one of the best players at the World Cup – causing all sorts of problems down Holland’s right side where Paul Verhaegh, picked ahead of Janmaaat, struggled to cope with his pace. Losing Nigel De Jong after just 9 minutes through injury was a blow as Van Gaal had to reshuffle the pack and bring Bruno Martins Indi on in defence, with Daley Blind moving to midfield.
The first real opportunity of the game was spurned by Hector Herrera who scuffed an effort inches wide of the post in the 17th minute after good work from Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta. Mexico should have been reward a penalty three minutes later as Herrera charged into the box, only to receive a heavy kick to the face through desperate Dutch defending that went unpunished. Mexico continued to look by far the better team, and it took Holland until first half injury time to muster an attacking threat – albeit created by a Mexico error. Some tiki-taka play from Mexico created complacency that almost cost them dear, as Rafael Marquez gave the ball straight to Robin Van Persie who fed Arjen Robben running in on goal. Robben cut inside onto his unflavoured right foot but was taken out by Marquez and Hector Moreno which should have been a penalty, but again the referee waved away the protests.
Van Gaal had a lot of work on his hands at half time to ignite the spark back into Holland who were poor in the first half. Whatever was said did not work as Mexico came straight out the traps and took a thoroughly deserved lead in the 48th minute. After a long ball was not cleared properly by Ron Vlaar, Giovani Dos Santos held off three defenders before firing in an unstoppable half volley from 25 yards which gave Jasper Cillessen no chance. Going a goal behind provided a much-needed wake up call for Holland who looked a shadow of the team that had come through the group stages with flying colours. Holland began to assert themselves and gain a foothold on the game, and should have equalised in the 58th minute if not for the heroics of a keeper who becomes a free agent after the World Cup. An in-swinging corner from Robben was met by a half volley from De Vrij just a few yards out, but Guillermo Ochoa pulled off a magnificent reaction save by tipping the ball onto the post to preserve Mexico’s lead.
Although Ochoa denied Robben before the scheduled drinks break in the 75th minute, Mexico dominated possession and looked all set to advance to the quarter-finals to face Costa Rica or Greece until they were dealt a double body blow in cruel circumstances. Unusually slack Mexico marking from an 88th minute corner allowed Klaas Jan Huntelaar to lay a header back to Wesley Sneijder who rifled the ball into the bottom corner from 16 yards out. Controversy then came to the fore four minutes later as Robben weaved his way into the box before going down in the box as he tried to go past Marquez. To the amazement and horror of the Mexican players, the referee pointed to the spot – several replays cannot conclusively confirm whether it was the right decision, although Robben’s theatrical fall appeared to come from dragging his boot over Marquez’s foot. Up stepped Huntelaar to send Ochoa the wrong way and put Holland into a quarter final tie they scarcely deserved.