How Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben Can Power the Netherlands Past Mexico

Elko BornContributor IJune 28, 2014

Netherlands' Robin van Persie, right, gives the captain's arm band to his teammate Arjen Robben before he is substituted during the group B World Cup soccer match between Australia and the Netherlands at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

It’s funny how football has a knack for making the unimaginable come true.

In that short period of time between the end of the season and the start of the World Cup, when fans were speculating and critics were writing their previews, there wasn't a soul who expected the Netherlands to demolish Spain, brush aside Australia and Chile and score a total of 10 goals.

But it happened, and looking ahead at the Netherlands' round-of-16 match against Mexico, it now looks as if we've been blind not to see it.

Defying all expectations, Oranje's defensive solidity and incredible goalscoring ability suddenly seem as natural as hot weather in Brazil.

After a train wreck of a season at Manchester United, Robin van Persie must now be smiling like a kid on his birthday party. He was always going to be good, but who would have thought he'd score three goals in two matches, including a wonder goal against Spain?

It was all set up for him by Louis van Gaal, though. The Dutch boss' unusual 5-3-2 formation gets the best out of the Manchester United man, and that's exactly why it was implemented. 

With back-in-form playmaker Wesley Sneijder right behind him, van Persie is always in position to be on the receiving end of a defence-splitting pass. What's more, wing-backs Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind, who are excellent at making runs forward, are able to deliver pin-point crosses, targeted right on van Persie's forehead.

He has already won the Premier League, but there's another dream that he wants to see come true. Despite all the goals he has scored at club level, van Persie has never been as influential as he could be for the Dutch national team. In Brazil, that must change.

Then there's Arjen Robben. While most pacy wingers peak somewhere in their 20s, the 30-year-old Bayern Munich winger has somehow squeezed an extra dose of skills from his apparently unlimited potential.

Possibly the best player of the tournament so far, Robben has almost single-handedly led the Dutch attack that smashed the defensive walls of Spain, Australia and Chile to bits. If it wasn't for van Persie, you'd almost think Oranje played with just one attacker.

Robben's second goal against Spain was perhaps the ultimate manifestation of his newfound and almost god-like powers. Running towards the Spanish goal like a man possessed, he left defender Sergio Ramos with no chance. 

Robben put the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas as Ramos' desperate attempt to stop the ball tackled nothing but air. After the lost final of 2010, during which he missed an ultimate chance to score the only goal in normal time, Robben had finally taken his revenge.

Robin van Persie is generally considered to be one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Arjen Robben is a key man for Bayern Munich, who has been lavishly successful in the past few years.

Now the Netherlands' two best players want success with their country. 

Against Mexico, they will once again be used as the sword that must pierce the opposition's resistance. While van Gaal will sit back, hoping the defensive setup of his 5-3-2 will soak up much of Mexico's pressure, he expects his two star players up front to deliver the goals. 

Van Persie and Robben have made van Gaal’s tactics work. They are the ones who can power the Netherlands past Mexico.