Netherlands win in incredible comeback
In the second day of round-of-16 action, Louis Van Gaal’s free-scoring Netherlands met Miguel Herrera’s defensively-sound Mexico; it set the game up for an interesting contest.
But the game was never going to be wave after wave of Dutch attacks while Mexico tried to keep them at bay – the Mexicans may have come into this game with a rock-solid defence, but they are potent in front of goal as well.
Mexico, despite being underdogs, were far and away the best team in the first half – they were characteristically resolute at the back, but they were also eager to break at speed and run at the Dutch back line.
Unfortunately, the scorching heat (in the region of 38 C) didn’t allow much flow to the game. Thirty minutes in, and the World Cup’s first ever “cooling break” allowed players on both teams a moment to hydrate.
The game came to a close after a scoreless half, but the Mexicans were, surprisingly, looking like the likeliest team to break the deadlock.
Mexico finally got the rewards for their brilliant play after the break.
Just three minutes into the half, the Dutch defense failed to close down Giovanni Dos Santos quickly enough, and the Mexican winger fired in a 20-yard strike through a cluster of bodies and into the bottom corner of the net.
The goal sparked the Dutch into life, and Robben in particular grew more and more dangerous as the game progressed.
Once again, the “cooling break” broke up the flow – with the Dutch finally exerting their dominance, the break came at the worst possible time.
Guillermo Ochoa was once again in unbeatable form for Mexico – the shotstopper threw his body in front of everything, keeping his country in control of the game.
But with only two minutes of play left, a hero came to the fore for the Dutch.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar rose to knock down a high ball, heading back into the path of Wesley Sneijder just inside the 18-yard box. Sneijder met the ball with a perfect connection, firing a low, thunderous strike past a helpless Ochoa.
And from that point on, there only looked like one winner.
The Dutch kept throwing men forward, and Robben’s persistence at driving into the box eventually produced the inevitable result – with only minutes left of stoppage time, Robben, the master of winning penalties, was taken down in the box by Mexican captain Rafael Marquez.
Substitute (and creator of the first goal) Huntelaar stepped up to take it, the weight of the world on his shoulders. If he converted, his country would go through.
The striker dispatched the ball into the back of the net, breaking Mexican hearts but completing a sublime comeback for the Dutch.
The dramatic 2-1 comeback victory maintains the Netherlands’ perfect record (they are now four wins from four) and sets them up for a quarter-final match against either Costa Rica or Greece.
Regardless of which of the two they face, the men in orange will be huge favourites to advance to the semifinals. Incredible counter attacking football has taken them this far, and they are looking more and more likely like going all the way. Beware of the Oranje, they want revenge for World Cup 2010.
Costa Rica triumph in the battle of the underdogs
The second game of the day saw a bizarre match-up; Costa Rica and Greece, both of whom were predicted to finish dead last in their respective groups, defied the odds and met in a round-of-16 encounter.
Greece came through Group C, despite being predicted to be beaten to second spot by either Japan or Ivory Coast.
The Costa Ricans had an even bigger challenge – being drawn in this year’s Group of Death, La Sele claimed shock victories over both Uruguay and Italy, usurping the latter’s place and progressing from Group D.
Both teams progressed on the back of being extremely organised defensively – it didn’t take an expert to predict that this game would be a tight, cautious encounter.
An inevitable goalless first half didn’t give viewers much to get excited about, but less than 10 minutes after the break, the deadlock was finally broken; Costa Rican winger Bryan Ruiz finished excellently, receiving the ball at the top of the box and finishing with a first-time shot into the bottom corner of the Greek goal.
But only fourteen minutes later, Costa Rica put themselves in big trouble. Oscar Duarte received his second yellow card and was dismissed from the match, giving Greece a man advantage with just under a third of the match still to be played.
The tables were turned on Greece – notorious for scoring one goal and then sitting on their lead, the Greeks now had to throw everything at an opponent who was using their own tricks against them.
With the game looking more and more likely to be the end of the Greek World Cup dream, Sokratis Papastathopoulos gave his country a lifeline; in the final minute of play, the big defender found the ball right at his feet with the Costa Rican goal at his mercy – he did not disappoint, and extra time was on the cards.
Greece threw everything they had at Costa Rica, but they were unable to break through before the referee decided that this game would be decided by a penalty shootout.
A perfect penalty record gave Costa Rica the win, and left the Greeks heartbroken.
Costa Rica (incredibly) is now in the quarter-finals, where they will meet up against an in-form Netherlands.
They’ll be huge underdogs, but if they can come out of Group D unbeaten, they can definitely cause problems for the Dutch.