Mexico was six minutes from advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever outside of Mexico, but two late Dutch goals turned this round of 16 game on its head in the final minutes in Fortaleza.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• What a huge missed opportunity for Mexico
Coach Miguel Herrera had pushed all the right buttons in this tournament, but he began to choke not long after Giovani Dos Santos’s majestic goal had given El Tri a deserved lead. Herrera pulled Dos Santos from the game in the 61st minute, inserting Javier Aquino, and instead of continuing what had put Mexico on top, Herrera changed things up to protect the lead.
Mexico stopped attacking in the final 20 minutes, hoping to persevere in the searing heat and humidity, and that gave the Netherlands the chance to get back in the game. Mexico’s set-piece defending has been weak the entire tournament, and soon came Wesley Sneijder’s pinpoint equalizer off a poorly cleared corner kick. Then in added time Rafa Márquez fouled Arjen Robben in the box, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s game-winner from the penalty spot was almost academic after that, no matter how locked in Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa -- who was brilliant again -- had been. And with that Mexico went from being on the verge of a historic win to losing in the round of 16 for the sixth straight time.
• This Dutch team is hard to read
Good teams win games when they’re not playing at their best, and that was especially the case with the Netherlands, which seemed to be running in molasses for most of this game. In the first World Cup game ever with pre-planned cooling breaks, the Dutch didn’t seem as fit as the Mexican players, but they dug deep in the second half and took advantage of substitutions by Louis van Gaal that showed him out-coaching Herrera.
Both second-half subs—Memphis Depay and Huntelaar—had a positive impact on the comeback and helped the Dutch survive to reach a quarterfinal in which they will be the heavy favorite (against Costa Rica or Greece). Still, this wasn’t the same Dutch machine that we saw go perfect in the group stage, and it will be a challenge for Van Gaal to make sure they return to that level in the games ahead.
• Márquez seems star-crossed in World Cups
It’s a tremendous achievement by Márquez to be the first player ever to captain his team at four straight World Cups, and he deservedly made several World Cup Teams of the Group Stage for his performance in the first three games. But you can’t do what he did and lunge at Robben in the penalty box during injury time and expect good things to happen.
It’s a shame, really. You can’t help but leave this game thinking that Mexico lost this game more than the Netherlands won it. Herrera did so well to turn around a Mexican team that was a disaster in 2013 and take it to the verge of a history-making quarterfinals berth in the World Cup. To go out after being six minutes from victory will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of every fan of Mexican soccer.