Netherlands vs Mexico World Cup 2014 match report: Result 2-1 – Arjen Robben wins last-minute penalty which Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scores to steal win for Dutch in Fortaleza
Holland advance to the quarter-finals after the swiftest of one-twos dispatched their stubborn central American opponents, who had led for 40 minutes as the game reached its conclusion.
First, with but two minutes of normal time remaining, an astonishing goal by Wesley Sneijder cancelled out Giovani dos Santos’s opener. Then, deep into added time, Arjen Robben advanced threateningly to the byline, cut inside the penalty area and encountered Rafael Márquez’s leg.
It was the third time the Bayern Munich man had been in with a chance of securing a penalty in the game, and this time he was making no mistake. Perhaps angered by his two previous refusals, he gave the referee no option by flying through the air as if from the 10-metre board at the slightest touch on his ankle from the Mexican captain.
Moments later Huntelaar’s nerveless spot-kick confirmed the turnaround and a deflated Mexico were heading home, incandescent about a referee their manager, Miguel Herrera, later insisted had cheated his team of progression. It was a finish the excitement of which belied the game’s opening.
The first half was as might be expected when two defensive teams are obliged to meet in an oven. As the Brazilian temperature gauge would insist, it was extraordinarily hot out there; in the parts of the stands exposed to the sun, the fans stood in clusters at the back rather than taking to their seats where they risked being fried on the spot.
This was the first game of the tournament in which an official drinks break was sanctioned. Holland’s Louis van Gaal shamelessly took this as an opportunity for an extended mid-half team talk, urgently issuing instructions as his players replaced fluids.
He had already needed early reorganisation when Nigel de Jong was injured in a first-minute challenge. The former Manchester City enforcer was replaced by Bruno Martins Indi, with Daley Blind moving ostensibly into midfield. Though as Van Gaal’s central pairing routinely dropped in when the Mexicans had the ball, creating a back seven, midfield was a relative term. It was an orange wall the Dutch had constructed, anchored around the redoubtable figure of Ron Vlaar, a man who does not look as though he were bullied at school.
The Mexicans – who had conceded only one goal in the group stage – were equally adept at getting behind the ball. Every time Robben was in possession he found himself hemmed in by opponents. No more so than just before half-time when he strode into the penalty box to be met by a welcoming committee of green-shirted defenders.
First, Márquez clipped him on the back of the calf, then Héctor Moreno appeared to hack his legs away from him. As he picked himself up, expecting imminently to be placing the ball on the penalty spot, Robben could not believe the referee had waved play on.
What happened as the second half got under way, however, changed the tenor of the game. Somewhat against the possession statistics, Mexico conjured up a goal. And it was a magic strike. Receiving the ball just outside the Dutch box, Dos Santos ran across the orange back line and dispatched a left-foot shot into the corner of Jasper Cillissen’s net. It was a lovely goal, another of this World Cup’s cluster of long-range howitzers.
It meant Holland now needed to attack. The back five became a back three as the full-backs pushed into midfield. Dirk Kuyt ran himself into the patchy turf in pursuit of an opening. Robben came further and further back in search of the ball, increasingly beginning his incursions from inside his own half.
Van Gaal sent on Memphis Depay for Paul Verhaegh, swapping his formation to the more traditional Dutch method of 4-3-3. The resulting orange swarm won dozens of corners. From one, Guillermo Ochoa, who had become a Mexican hero after his goalkeeping performance against Brazil, made another amazing save from Stefan de Vrij, somehow getting his face in the way of the Dutchman’s smart flick.
Then Robben thought he should have had another penalty, as he fell under a barrage of tackles. But the referee, Pedro Proenca, was not convinced the contact was initiated by the defender. As Holland besieged the goal, the huge Mexican contingent were once again grateful to another outstanding save from Ochoa, this time after Robben had drifted through the defence into a perfect position to shoot.
With the Dutch leaving gaps as they bound forward, Herrera did what he generally does in such circumstances, he brought on Javier Hernández to exploit fresh space. It was a big audition for the Manchester United forward, in front of the new boss, but he did little to convince. As Hernández went one way, his club-mate Robin van Persie went the other, taken off, looking shattered by the conditions.
It looked as though those conditions would ultimately remove one more European team from this competition. Until, from yet another Robben corner, Depay headed the ball back to the edge of the Mexican area. It seemed like an error, but Sneijder latched on to it to send the ball as if laser-guided into the back of the Mexican net for a stupendous equaliser. Then came Robben’s Tom Daley moment. And the orange wall moves on.