FIFA 2014

Netherlands reach World Cup quarterfinals with dramatic comeback

Substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar converted a penalty won by Arjen Robben in the fourth minute of stoppage time after Sneijder volleyed home an 88th minute equalizer.

The Netherlands staged a remarkable late comeback in Fortaleza as goals from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas—Jan Huntelaar gave the Dutch a 2—1 win over Mexico and a place in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Huntelaar converted a penalty won by Arjen Robben in the fourth minute of stoppage time after Sneijder volleyed home an 88th minute equalizer.

Mexico had been the better team for long spells and had led through a wonderful long shot from Giovani dos Santos in the 48th minute.

But the Netherlands turned things around late on and face the winner of Sunday’s later tie between Costa Rica and Greece in the quarterfinal in Salvador on Saturday.

The Mexicans entered the match with the weight of history lying heavily upon their shoulders. They had only reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup when held inside their own country (1970 and 1986) and had lost five round-of-16 matches in succession.

That became six in a row in the most agonizing fashion imaginable as they threw away a winning position within sight of full time.

As the Netherlands struggled to adapt to the heat and humidity, a 48th minute strike from dos Santos beat the diving Jasper Cillessen for pace and accuracy.

Charismatic coach Miguel Herrera, looking unruffled in the heat despite wearing a suit and tie, exploded on the touchline in his trademark celebration.

Given the display of the Netherlands to this point, he must have felt the goal could be enough to see his team into the next round.

But with no choice but to push forward, the Netherlands responded and began throwing men forward against the green wall of the Mexico defence.

It looked as though their efforts would be in vain but when Robben’s corner kick was headed into the path of Sneijder, the midfielder sent an unstoppable volley into the net which left Guillermo Ochoa without a hope.

And when Robben was fouled in the box by Rafael Marquez, substitute Huntelaar had the chance to win the game. Though seeking his first goal of the tournament, the Schalke forward kept cool in the Fortaleza heat to send Ochoa the wrong way from 12 yards. Earlier, Ochoa made an instinctive save to deny Stefan de Vrij from a corner kick, turning the ball onto the post, before he also denied Robben as the Dutch pressure increased.

It was a turnaround from the first half that Mexico controlled as Hector Herrera guided a shot just wide before Cillessen saved from Carlos Salcido, brought into midfield for the suspended Jose Vazquez, and blocked from dos Santos at a tight angle.

During a remarkable journey through the group stage, which started with a 5—1 thrashing of reigning champions Spain, it seemed possible the Netherlands could achieve great things in Brazil.

But in the heat, the pace which characterized their earlier matches was absent. Robin Van Persie, back from a ban, hardly contributed and the ineffective Manchester United striker was subbed with 15 minutes remaining.

For long spells the Netherlands looked more like reluctant fathers dragged out to play in the searing midday sun by their enthusiastic children than a top side chasing a quarterfinal berth at the World Cup.

When they did have possession, it was retained with the sole ambition of conserving energy rather than to probe the Mexican defence for gaps.

But with their backs to the wall, the Netherlands responded when they had to and in the best possible fashion. Their dream continues while Mexico rue what might have been.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 1:59:43 AM |

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