Holland are transformed; a very different attitude from the team that kicked their way through the World Cup final in South Africa (all except, perhaps, Nigel De Jong). Renowned for their flair and attacking style, the Holland performance in the 2010 final left many underestimating their potency this year, especially with the emergence of some of the South American teams.
A replay of 2010 in Salvador saw Spain being dealt an absolute pasting; braces for both Van Persie and Robben (officially faster that Ronaldo at 30 years old), a result that nobody expected. It was an introduction to this new-era Holland side that did not let up. Not as free-flowing as they were in their day, but well organised and deadly. Wins against Australia (expected, I suppose) and a Chile side that were denied beating Brazil on their home turf by a goalpost or two; Holland finished their group 3 points clear. It is clear the appointment of the immanent Man Utd. boss seems to have brought ‘shexy football’ back to the Netherlands.
Van Gaal adopted his 3-at-the-back system with Kuyt replacing Martins and Van Persie returning from suspension.
At an hydrationally challenging 35° or so, the game began. After only 9 minutes, Nigel de Jong was replaced by Bruno Martins Indi, pushing Blind into central midfield. No reason given. Mexico were easily the better side for the first half an hour; Herrera coming close with a scuffed shot and really should have had a penalty; his bravery in the Holland penalty area rewarded with Ron Vlaar’s boot in his face. Cillessen was forced into action again not long afterward, saving long shots from Salcido and Dos Santos. Holland had not had a sniff of a goal, preoccupied with being pulled all over the pitch by Mexico’s movement and high defensive line.
31 minutes saw a ‘cooling break’ for 3 minutes for the teams to rehydrate.
Mexico, hydrated, did not relent and forced Cillessen into another save. Bruno Martins Indi got all ‘De-Jong’ and had a sly kick at Giovanni Dos Santos as Holland’s strikers were feeding on less than scraps. However, with perseverance the Dutch had their own call for a penalty as Robben was brought down by Márquez illegally in the box. Héctor Moreno left the pitch on a stretcher just before half time after his part in the scything down of the Dutchman. Honours even at half time.
The second half began at a blistering 38°C; empty seats appearing in the glare of the direct sunlight. Unruffled by this, Giovanni Dos Santos glided through the Dutch penalty area, unleashing a superb strike into the bottom corner of the goal, 3 minutes played.
Van Gaal brought on his super-sub Memphis Depay for Verhaegh on 55 minutes and Holland surged forward. De Vrij forced a magnificent save from Ochoa from a corner; Sneijder’s shot not long after taking a wicked deflection and spinning wide. The hour mark saw the goal scorer replaced with Javier Aquino. Holland were regaining some control and were on the ascendency but it was Mexico who had the ball in the net, only to be ruled offside. Robben tried hurling himself to the floor in the Mexico box after tripping on some legs, but to no avail; summing up the desperation of the Dutch. They did not give up and the pendulum began swinging their way. The chances for Mexico seemed to have dried up and Ochoa was called up again to make a phenomenal save at the feet of Arjen Robben on 73 minutes.
Just before another cooling break, Van Huntelaar replaced Van Persie, (rendered more or less anonymous by the Mexican defence) and Javier Hernández replaced Peralta.
It took 10 corners and 88 minutes for Holland to finally make a breakthrough; an unstoppable volley from 18 yards by Wesley Sneijder after a knockdown from Huntlaar. 1-1.
A minute or two later, another reckless challenge from Márquez brought down Robben in the box and Huntelaar tucked away the resulting penalty. Mexico were deflated, the game was won.
To win like this when all seemed lost really shows the resilience of this Holland side. Mexico were in control of 2/3rds of this game and will truly be gutted by the defeat. Holland, however, have shown a depth of character and a stoic determination to push on. The soaking up of pressure before regaining control of the final third of the game, as was their tactic against Chile, seems to be Van Gaal’s modus operandi…and it seems to work.
If it’s to be believed, the Dutch style is still being criticised by its former stars but as Van Gaal says “I have not lost yet.”
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