Story of the game
A tactical battle between two impressive sides so far this World Cup began in a highly intriguing fashion, with the heat, humidity, formations, and style of play all contributing to it. In the early minutes, Louis Van Gaal and Netherlands had to make an enforced substitution after holding midfielder Nigel De Jong picked up a knock. Bruno Martins Indi replaced him and rather than resulting in a change of shape, the versatile Daley Blind slipped into De Jong’s vacant berth.
On the quarter hour mark, a diagonal ball that Bruno Martins Indi failed to cut out eventually came to Peralta in the Netherlands penalty area. He danced inside and rather than taking the shot on with his left foot, he fed Herrera in a better position who managed to dance away from Ron Vlaar but only managed to skew his shot inches wide of the left hand upright.
Hector Herrera was playing as the most advanced member of Mexico’s midfield trio, and he was managing to play a full part in their possession football before breaking towards the box. These runs were causing Ron Vlaar and Martins Indi in particular no end of problems. One of these charges resulted in a very realistic penalty shout as Vlaar and De Vrij both raised their boots to dangerous heights and the Mexican suffered a kick in the head in the process. An absolute banker of a free kick anywhere else on the pitch, but Mexico were denied the spot kick for some reason.
Although similar formations had been adopted by both sides, their in-game tactics were entirely different. While Netherlands were prepared to sit deep in numbers and often leave only Robben and Van Persie further up-field, Mexico played more of a high tempo game which centred around pressing and then possession in midfield. These methods did seem to cancel each other out somewhat and chances were at a premium. Netherlands certainly seemed content to await an opportunity to steal possession and quickly spring Van Persie.
As the match entered into first half injury time, Robin Van Persie led a Dutch break with Robben in support. The captain; faced with two Mexican defenders, slipped Arjen Robben in who was felled by a combination of Marquez and Moreno, with both tacklers looking to have committed a foul on the Bayern winger. However, the referee saw only a clean challenge and waved play on, leading to a goalless situation at half time.
In the process of his possibly less than legal tackle, Hector Moreno picked up a serious-looking injury that meant he left the field on a stretcher. A vital cog of the experienced threesome at the centre of the Mexican defence, Moreno would be missed. How much so, the second half would show us as Diego Reyes replaced him at the interval.
The second period of the game was barely a couple of minutes old when Mexico struck gold. Giovani Dos Santos took a ball out of the sky very neatly indeed and doing well to hold off the pressure of Daley Blind, he cut in-field while the ball bounced a few times. Catching the ball absolutely perfectly with a clean left foot strike, the Mexican number 10 found the bottom left corner of Cillessen’s goal in a flash. This was just what the game needed to be set alight, as previously the humid conditions had been sufficient to slow the pace and reduce the attacking desire.
While Netherlands did try to up their game, Mexico remained a vibrant threat and this was emphasised when Oribe Peralta spun off Ron Vlaar and hit a swerving left foot shot that was destined for the corner of the net. Cillessen dealt with it but he didn’t look the most comfortable in the process.
Then came a marvellous reaction save by Ochoa from a close-range De Vrij effort. The Dutch centre half caught the ball very sweetly only a couple of yards out and somehow the Mexican goalkeeper got his strong hands and head in the way to divert the shot away onto his post. After his showing against Brazil that included many comparable stops, could he be in the same kind of unstoppable form again?
A fast counter-attack from the Dutch resulted in a deflected shot that Ochoa could have done nothing about. Thankfully for him, Robben’s ricochet dropped agonisingly wide of the post after he had been fed by a scything pass from Wesley Sneijder.
Memphis Depay; a second half substitute who had an effect every time he had been introduced to proceedings so far this tournament, was much more of a threat than Dirk Kuyt from left wing-back. Possessing the capability to go on the outside or to cut back inside posed a greater problem to Mexico’s veteran defenders. The Dutch camped themselves within Mexico’s half of the field after Depay’s introduction and showed an urgency that we had previously not seen.
A terrific run by the mercurial Arjen Robben just before the second mandatory drinks break drew another great save from Ochoa. Leaving men in his wake, Robben broke into the box and could easily have gone down for a penalty but continued on to take a right footed shot that was blocked by the onrushing Ochoa.
Another unbelievable save was exhibited by the free agent in the Mexican goal. Unknown to him, a flick off a Dutch head had left the opposition attacker offside, but he pulled off another top quality reaction save to deny him anyway.
Holland finally snatched an equaliser from one of the multitude of corners they had earned throughout the match. A whipped ball in was headed more up than out and it fell to Wesley Sneijder in a pocket of space. One bounce and a smack of the right boot later, and the Oranje were all square on the score-board. He had barely influenced proceedings at all but showed the value of having quality on the pitch when he powered the ball home from 18 yards out.
Entering into 6 minutes of added on time gave one side the opportunity to grab a late winner but after 90 minutes in the punishing heat, no one expected either team to have the stamina to mount a serious challenge at that time. However, Arjen Robben had something to say about that. Cutting back in-field after reaching the by-line, he had his legs taken away from him and finally a successful penalty appeal was made. Quite a delay was to follow and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the man to handle all that pressure, calmly slotting the ball past the otherwise excellent Ochoa. Dutch fans delirious and Mexicans despairing, there was no time left for a comeback and so the European side progressed into the quarter finals to face the winner of Costa Rica vs Greece.
Netherlands: Cillessen, Verhaegh (Depay – 56’), De Vrij, Vlaar, Blind, Kuyt, De Jong (Martins Indi – 9’), Wijnaldum, Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie (Huntelaar – 76’).
1. Jasper Cillessen – 6. Didn’t have a great deal to do but he coped mostly, despite not looking particularly comfortable in some instances.
12. Paul Verhaegh – 5. The effect of removing Janmaat from the Dutch side could be seen acutely when their attack down the right was blunted so obviously. Layun also beat him a couple of times and he was later sacrificed for Depay as Van Gaal went in search of an equaliser.
3. Stefan De Vrij – 6. He was fairly solid at the back but was occasionally exposed. De Vrij was perhaps more effective in the opposition box; causing havoc and forcing Ochoa into top saves.
2. Ron Vlaar – 5. Not as commanding as in the group games and could well have been punished for mistakes on more than one occasion.
5. Daley Blind – 6. Applied himself well in a variety of positions during the game and was not exposed regardless of where he played.
15. Dirk Kuyt – 6. Playing in positions that are far from familiar to him, he carried out his assigned tasks to great effect and did not look out of place in defence. His attacking threat was nullified somewhat however.
6. Nigel De Jong – N/A.
20. Georginio Wijnaldum – 5. Failed to impact the game a great deal and was outshone by each member of the Mexican midfield.
10. Wesley Sneijder – 6. Until the last minutes of the match, he had barely produced anything worth mentioning, but that finish alone was incredibly important and demonstrated the true nature of his ability.
11. Arjen Robben – 7. Wasn’t quite as dazzling as we have grown to expect so far this World Cup, but he still looked the man that Mexico feared most. On another day he could have had a couple more penalties than he was actually awarded, and his delivery from corners caused issues all match.
9. Robin Van Persie – 6. Started the game off quite brightly and despite his isolation from fellow team mates, he did not fail to create openings. The second half was a much quieter one from the captain but even so, his withdrawal with 15 minutes to go certainly did raise some eyebrows.
4. Bruno Martins Indi – 5. Looked clumsy in the tackle and lacked composure on the ball. Some of his challenges were questionable at best and Van Gaal will hope that De Jong’s injury isn’t too serious.
21. Memphis Depay – 6. Certainly changed the game when he was introduced, as the left flank became a constant threat to Mexico’s clean sheet. Even his defensive responsibilities were not completely forgotten but he was significantly better in the attacking third.
19. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – 6. He has been a withdrawn figure this tournament and nobody expected Van Gaal to turn in his direction instead of sticking with Van Persie, but he was more than justified when he notched up the match-winning penalty.
1. Guillermo Ochoa – 8. Another top-notch display from this cult hero. He pulled off some amazing reaction saves and was also smart off his line.
22. Paul Aguilar – 6. Until late on, he didn’t face much of a threat on his flank as Kuyt continued to come inside. Depay caused him more difficulty but nothing materialised from his side.
2. Francisco Javier Rodriguez – 6. Occasionally given a hard time by Robben but generally held up well from an aerial and ground assault.
4. Rafael Marquez – 7. Once again, he rolled back the years and put in a great performance. He wasn’t quite as influential as against Brazil but nevertheless, his defensive nous was unrivalled.
15. Hector Moreno – 6. Although he maybe should have had a penalty given against him for a swiping tackle on Robben, he was generally a tough but fair defender throughout the first half. Having to be replaced at half time due to injury was a big blow.
7. Miguel Layun – 6. Looked very lively and dangerous in the first half but he retreated more into his shell when Mexico went ahead, transforming offensive talent into defensive solidity.
3. Carlos Salcido – 6. He can play in all manner of positions and did not look out of place in a deep-lying midfield role. He was important to the Mexican passing style and rarely got overrun.
6. Hector Herrera – 8. A terrifically complete midfield performance that is up there with the best. There was not an area of the pitch that he did not influence and at many stages, he was Mexico’s greatest goal threat.
18. Andres Guardado – 6. Added energy to a sometimes lethargic game in the first half but faded slightly in the second. The balance he brings to midfield is very important.
10. Giovani Dos Santos – 7. Looked lively in the first half and scored the game’s opening goal with a wonderful strike. He was sacrificed not too long after that as the Mexican coach looked to become more compact.
19. Oribe Peralta – 6. He worked very hard up front, often ploughing a lone furrow but still created chances for himself and others. Perhaps he tired later on but his influence on the match was secure.
5. Diego Reyes – 5. Looked nervy on his feet and it took him a while to adjust to the pace of the game.
20. Javier Aquino – 6. His effect wasn’t as great as that of Dos Santos, but he put a shift in for the team which is all that you can ask.
14. Javier Hernandez – 5. I am not sure that he touched the ball in the opposition’s box, but then he wasn’t frequently given the opportunity to.
Man of the Match
Hector Herrera was absolutely fabulous for the entire game, but most noticeably in the first period. His ability to track back to win the ball, then get involved in intricate possession play, before making the break towards the Dutch goal and threaten Cillessen was unmatched by anyone on either side. The complete midfielder is unlucky to be going home from the World Cup because this performance and others previously more than deserve a spot in the last 8. Top clubs will have seen the understanding he can demonstrate as part of a midfield 3 and will surely look to bring him in over the summer. After today, you can be sure that his value has rocketed upwards.