FORTALEZA – 2nd rd: Holland 2, Mexico 1
—- Remarkable comeback goals in the closing minutes from Wesley Sneijder and Klas-Jan Huntelaar turned this second round tie on its head as Holland recovered from a goal down to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.
Holland, favourites after their outstanding first-round performances, had gone a goal down two minutes into the second half to a fine strike from Giovani dos Santos. Not until the 88th minute did Wesley Sneijder equalise and then substitute Huntelaar thumped home a penalty three minutes into stoppage time.
In the first half the Mexicans’ direct running threatened to overwhelm the Dutch defence. Arjen Robben, on the counter-attack, was the most dangerous Dutch weapon as Mexico commanded possession.
The pacy Miguel Layun, down the left wing, stretched the Dutch in the opening minutes and Hector Herrera and Giovani, twice, went within inches of beating jittery keeper Jasper Cillessen.
Mexico did enjoy a little fortune, however, almost on halftime when skipper Rafael Marquez made a fine save tackle to deny Robben a shooting opportunity. Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca waved away penalty claims.
No change at the outset of the second half. Despite searing heat which drove fans out of seats in the direct sunlight, Mexico continued to forge forward.
Giovani stepped in from the right in a position which offered little danger. However he suddenly glimpsed a gap as two defenders sought to close him down, and shot low and left-footed past Cillessen’s left hand.
His 16th international goal provoked the Dutch into stepping up their own attacking game. Now they could no longer afford to rely on a counter-attack strategy.
Increasing pressure, aided by the attacking substitution of Memphis Depay for rightback Paul Verhaegh, brought corners and shooting opportunities.
Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa made a remarkable reflex save from Stefan De Vrij – the shot ricocheted away off the keeper’s left-hand post – then Sneijder had a shot deflected over the bar.
Desperation began to take over as Holland saw time running out. Coach Louis Van Gaal took off the ineffective Robin Van Persie and brought on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Dirk Kuyt was pushed up from midfield as Van Gaal orderd a long-ball assault on the Mexican penalty box.
Three minutes remained when a Robben hit a right-wing corner to the far post, Huntelaar knocked it back and Sneijder rammed a thunderous drive low inside Ochoa’s right-hand post for a deserved equaliser.
Two minutes into stoppage Robben jinked into the penalty box on the right and was tripped by Marquez as he stepped back inside from the byline. No doubt this time . . . and Huntelaar thumped home the penalty.
Holland had won it in what Manchester United fans, as their new manager Van Gaal, will soon discover is known as ‘Fergie time.’