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Iain Macintosh
Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014

Sports

Oranje on fire

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014

Netherlands' midfielder Wesley Sneijder (R) celebrates after scoring the 1-1 during a Round of 16 football match between Netherlands and Mexico at Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza.

ROUND OF 16

HOLLAND 2
(Wesley Sneijder 88, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 90+4)

MEXICO 1
(Giovani dos Santos 48)

 

For the first time since 1986, Mexico were in sight of the World Cup quarter-finals, ready to end a run of consecutive second round exits that stretched all the way back to 1994.

A well taken goal from Giovani dos Santos had threatened to break Dutch hearts, conditions were stupefying and the Europeans were struggling to cope.

With temperatures reaching almost 39 deg C at pitchside, so hot that many supporters abandoned their seats, surely there was no chance for the Dutch to come back?

Wrong. First Wesley Sneijder struck powerfully in the 88th minute, then Arjen Robben was felled in the penalty area. Klass-Jan Huntelaar stepped up and smashed the Dutch into the last eight.

In these conditions, against this opposition, this was as brave a victory as you will ever see and a pulsating end to a poor game.

The quality of the game was not helped by the fact that the two team matched each other tactically and, for the most part, cancelled each other out.

Both sides played three man defences, both flooded the midfield and both hoped that their fullbacks would create the width to open up the game.

Louis van Gaal is many things, but he is not stupid.

In the blistering heat and suffocating humidity, had Holland attempted to play a high tempo game, they would have been dropping to the floor with dehydration even before the first ever official 'cooling break' came on the half hour.

Instead, his side kept every thing simple, gently moving the ball around in their own half and hoping that the movement would open up space.

It did no such thing.

Mexico, experienced and far better suited to the conditions, were too canny to leave space anywhere on the pitch.

When the Dutch did reach the final third, that three man back line shut them down.

Robin van Persie was neutralised, Robben's runs were blocked and, once again, Sneijder was utterly ineffectual in the middle.

The only chance the Dutch had came right before half-time when Robben was felled by Hector Moreno, but no penalty was given.

Mexico had their own penalty shout in the first half when Hector Herrera darted into the box and was promptly kicked in the face by Ron Vlaar.

 

Penalty

Had the offence occured anywhere else on the pitch, it would surely have been a foul.

In the penalty area, the referee was less enthused.

It took Mexico just three second half minutes to break the deadlock. The Dutch failed to shut Dos Santos down and the former Barcelona starlet, turned and unleashed a firecracker into the bottom corner.

All across the pitch, Dutch heads dropped. In this heat, how could they possibly hope to claw their way back into the game?

Stefan de Vrij did his best 10 minutes later.

Mexico were never entirely comfortable with set-pieces and the PSV Eindhoven defender must have thought he'd scored when he bundled the ball at the goal from point blank range.

He reckoned without Guillermo Ochoa, the man who kept Brazil at bay almost single-handedly.

The unemployed goalkeeper stopped the ball with the side of his face and sent it spinning off against the post and away.

Robben's pace earned him another chance in the 74th minute, but once again, he found Ochoa in defiant mood.

The Dutch continued to press, pushing through the pain barrier, but Mexico's advantage meant that they could sit deeper, stand off and watch their opponents exhaust themselves.

And then the Oranje struck, just when Mexico thought their jinx had been ended.

Football can be so cruel.


This article was first published on JUNE 30, 2014.
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