Two of the group stage’s best sides collide in Fortaleza on Sunday, as the Netherlands take on Mexico for a place in the World Cup 2014 quarter-finals.
Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands went all the way to final four years ago in South Africa, and they got off to the best possible start on their mission to go one better this time around, winning their opening three matches.
Mexico, meanwhile, were the surprise package of Group A—defeating Cameroon and Croatia with minimal fuss and holding hosts Brazil to a 0-0 draw. With both nations in sublime form heading into the round-of-16 clash, it could be a tight affair at the Estadio Castelao.
Venue: Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
Date: Sunday 29 June
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1 (U.K.)/ESPN (U.S.)
Dutch Going for Glory
What is it about Holland and the World Cup? They just seem to come to life whenever the famous trophy is on offer, and 2014’s tournament has been no different.
The Dutch have never won the World Cup despite reaching three finals in their last seven tournaments, though this year in Brazil could be the chance to put that right.
With Van Gaal at the helm determined to go out with a bang before joining Manchester United and a whole host of big-name stars donning the orange shirt, Netherlands seem to have found the perfect formula for success.
Three wins out of three in the tough-looking Group B deservedly put the Dutch into the knockout stage, and midfielder Wesley Sneijder now wants his nation to go all the way—per FIFA.com:
That was one of the toughest moments of my career so far (losing the 2010 final to Spain). But the beautiful thing about football is that you always have the chance to gain a bit of revenge, and here we are four years later. And why can't we win it this time? I think we have a great team and a great spirit, so we have to go for it. We are very confident, but we always have to look to our next opponents and Mexico have a good team.
Sneijder has been a key member of the Netherlands’ team so far, but one man stole the headlines with three phenomenal group performances—Arjen Robben.
The Bayern Munich star has been unplayable on the wings for Netherlands in Brazil, scoring three goals and earning endless praise for his dynamic performances—including from Gary Lineker:
The best player of the World Cup group stage is Arjen Robben. He's been utterly outstanding!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2014
Indeed, Robben is arguably the player of the tournament so far and will be key to Holland’s chances against Mexico, having enjoyed a fruitful international spell of late—per OptaJohan:
13 - Arjen Robben has been involved in 13 goals (8 goals, 5 assists) in his last 9 games for the Netherlands. Key.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 23, 2014
However, Robben will have his work cut out against the Mexicans, who proved during the group stage that they aren’t to be underestimated.
Miguel Herrera’s side looked comfortable on the big stage in all of their matches—conceding just one goal in Group A—but were particularly impressive against Brazil.
Mexico played with flair and aggression despite being up against the fearsome hosts and could easily have come away from the game with a victory, but did have their goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to thank for some wonderful saves.
If they can emulate their performance from the stalemate with Brazil then the Netherlands won’t have an easy ride in Fortaleza. The Mexicans are masters of the counter-attack, but have a good enough defence to keep sides at bay in the meantime.
Though Robin van Persie returns for the Dutch on Sunday, the clash has all the makings of being a tight, low-scoring affair.
Of all the round-of-16 ties in Brazil, this match is one that could easily go to extra time, where Holland’s class may just shine through with tiredness sinking in.
Prediction: Netherlands 1-1 Mexico (2-1 AET)