World Cup: Netherlands show they can handle the heat

Tactical change during second ‘cooling break’ helps turn game around for Dutch.

Netherlands' wing Arjen Robben falls theatrically to earn the decisive penalty for the Dutch against Mexico. Photo / AP
Netherlands' wing Arjen Robben falls theatrically to earn the decisive penalty for the Dutch against Mexico. Photo / AP

The Dutch were worried about the oppressive heat at Arena Castelao, and they left it with the hot conditions to thank for a spot in the World Cup quarter-finals.

An inspired tactical change during the second of two official stoppages led to a late goal from Netherlands forward Wesley Sneijder and an injury-time penalty from Klaas Jan Huntelaar in a dramatic 2-1 victory over Mexico yesterday.

"I moved to 'Plan B' at the cooling break," said Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, soon to be the manager at Manchester United. "That is a good way to take advantage of those breaks."

Despite scoring 10 goals in three group matches, the Dutch again started the match with a defensive 5-3-2 system. Van Gaal made the switch to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation in the second half and tweaked it further when referee Pedro Proenca stopped the match in the 76th minute to allow players to rehydrate.

That helped to turn the match around and extend Mexico's second-round curse to six straight World Cups.

"Unbelievable," said Arjen Robben, the Netherlands forward who earned the late penalty. "Five minutes from full time, we were out."

Instead of the Dutch players, it was the Mexicans who wilted in the heat as they conceded twice as many goals in the final minutes of the match as they had in the entire group stage.

"The humidity was against us, but we were fresher and fitter than the Mexicans," van Gaal said. "Yes, we escaped. But we showed that we could create more chances with 4-3-3, and the players handled this shift very well."

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The Dutch will next face Costa Rica in the quarter-finals on Sunday in Salvador, and may have to play without midfielder Nigel de Jong, who was substituted with a groin injury.

Mexico have now advanced to the second round at the World Cup six straight times and not reached the quarter-finals. The last time the team made it that far was as host of the 1986 tournament.

Giovani Dos Santos gave the Mexicans the lead in the 48th minute after a goalless first half, but Sneijder equalised with a hard shot in the 88th.

It was the first time Sneijder, who scored five goals at the last World Cup in South Africa, has found the net in Brazil.

Robben, who has already scored three goals for the Dutch at this year's tournament, then earned the penalty in the fourth minute of injury time but he handed the ball to Huntelaar.

"You don't know when your chance will come, but it was today, and so you grab it with both hands," said Huntelaar, who replaced captain Robin van Persie in the 76th minute. "And it was fantastic."

For Mexico, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa pulled off two more great saves after playing a key role in holding Brazil to a 0-0 draw in Group A. But he couldn't block Sneijder's shot and guessed wrong when diving for Huntelaar's penalty.

"It isn't easy to go out this way, the way this match went," Ochoa said. "It's just very hard to deal with when victory escapes you this way."

Robben up to his old tricks as Mexicans blame referee for loss

Arjen Robben did little yesterday to defuse the debate about his reputation for diving.

The Netherlands winger earned an injury-time penalty in Fortaleza and then watched as teammate Klaas Jan Huntelaar converted from the spot to give the Dutch a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Mexico in the second round of the World Cup.

Robben collapsed theatrically under a challenge from Rafael Marquez, causing emotional Mexico coach Miguel Herrera to blame his team's loss on referee Pedro Proenca.

"We ended up losing because he whistled a penalty that did not exist," Herrera said, adding that Robben "dived three times. The referee should have cautioned him".

Throughout his career, Robben has had a reputation for frequently falling and looking for a penalty or free kick.

Watch: World Cup: Netherlands steal victory

But the 30-year-old Bayern Munich star appears to have matured. In recent seasons, it has been his scintillating form rather than theatrical falls that have grabbed headlines.

He set up a goal and scored the winner in Bayern Munich's 2013 Champions League final win and has been in the form of his life in Brazil, scoring three times and providing an inch-perfect assist for a Memphis Depay goal in the three Dutch victories in Group B.

In Fortaleza's Arena Castelao he appeared to be unlucky not to have won a penalty shortly before halftime, when Mexico defenders Marquez and Hector Moreno raced back to tackle him after he linked up with Robin van Persie in a fast break.

"If that wasn't a penalty, I don't know what is," Robben said.

But he conceded that he had taken one dive earlier in the first half that the referee waved off.

"I have to say, in the first half - and right away offer my excuses - I dived. I mustn't do that. It was another stupid action," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Mexico captain Marquez said that Robben conceded he had dived in injury time too - though Robben did not say that on Dutch TV.

"I spoke with him [Robben] after the match and he told me that it was not a penalty," Marquez said. "He said that the first foul was a penalty and that one was not called."

Whatever the debate, one thing is clear - the Netherlands are through to the quarter-finals thanks to the penalty Robben won.

- AP

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