Three minutes from the end of normal time and Mexico were almost there – their first World Cup Quarterfinal since 1986. Giovani dos Santos’ 48th minute strike had put Mexico in front. But Wesley Sneidjer, who was left unmarked just outside the box, equalized for the Netherlands in the 88th minute with a powerful shot – Ochoa, Mexico’s World Cup hero was just a spectator. Three minutes later, in the injury time, Rafael Marquez felled Arjen Robben inside the box. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar coolly netted the resultant penalty and put an end to Mexico’s dreams of progressing.
Formations from 6’ to 56’ –
Louis van Gaal used a 3-4-1-2 formation while his counterpart Miguel Herrera preferred a more defensive minded 5-3-2 system. Nigel de Jong got injured in the sixth minute and centre back Bruno Martins Indi came in place of him as an early substitute. As a result of this, Daley Blind, who started as a central defender, played higher up the pitch as a central midfielder.
First Half – Mexico’s dominance
The first half was goalless but marked Mexico’s brilliance on the field. Mexicans looked threatening and most of the times tried to pass the ball to their main striker Oribe Peralta. Miguel Herrera’s strategy was to somehow pump the ball higher up the pitch and try to involve as many players as possible while attacking. Peralta would receive long balls in wide positions, thus drawing an extra Dutch player towards him and making space for Hector Herrera and Anders Guardado.
Mexicans were also good while defending – although there was a tense moment when Marquez slipped and lost the ball to van Persie. They were closing down the Dutch and covering the gaps. Solcido was very effective in marking Sneijder in the first half. Sneijder had to drop deep or drift wide to escape from Solcido which resulted in acres of space in the midfield region for the Mexicans to create something.
Guardado drifting wide to the left flank, Herrera striding forward, Solcido staying deep, constant pressing and closing down by the Mexicans meant that the Dutch had limited chances in the first 45 minutes. Clever passes from Netherlands midfielders and defenders over a high defensive line of Mexico released Robben and van Persie a few times but they were not able to convert those chances.
Second Half – Santos’ goal and its aftermath
In the 56th minute when the Dutch were trailing by a goal, van Gaal – a man known for his ability to take brave decisions – brought on Memphis Depay. To accommodate Deapy into the system and to take control of the game, van Gaal changed his team’s formation to 4-3-3. Dirk Kuyt, who played as the left back in the first half, switched to his right to play as the right back. Indi played as the left back. Blind, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sneijder played in the midfield region. Depay and Robben flanked van Persie (later substituted by Huntelaar).
Tired due to the relentless pressing and closing down done in the first half, the Mexicans took a step backwards and decided to defend their lead. Netherlands started to play more quickly. Mexicans faded and the now it was the Dutch who were pressing higher up the pitch in search of an equalizer. Until that substitution, the Netherlands got only 3 corners. After that, the Mexicans conceded 7 more corners. The number of crosses that went in increased – so did the pressure on Mexico.
Arjen Robben –
Robben posed problems to the Mexicans defence by providing crosses and cutting into the space between the defenders. He made the best use of Mexico’s high defensive line by getting behind the defenders. He let Kuyt overlap a few times to give passes from the back of the defensive line. A penalty appeal by Robben was turned by the referee Pedro Proenca in the first half. In the last stages of the game Robben earned his team a crucial spot kick which was converted by Huntelaar.
Defensive errors by Mexico –
Netherlands’ first goal was due to a defensive error – partly by Ochoa and partly Aquino. Ochoa initially came forward to collect (or punch the ball away) the ball but went back to his line by changing his mind. At the same time, Javier Aquino did not mark Sniejder, who was advancing towards the ball to take the shot.
Second goal – It was an unnecessary tackle by Marquez on Robben. Robben is known for his diving. Marquez should have been more careful while dealing with him.
An upset was on the cards with just a few minutes left. But the Dutch once again made a comeback. Again the weather played a part in the outcome of the game. The more physical Dutch side was able to take control of the game in the dying stages. Once again Louis van Gaal succeeded in winning the game for his team by making the right changes.