The Netherlands and Mexico clash in Sunday's opening game for a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals, and to say that either team is lacking in confidence entering the match would be quite laughable.
Three matches, three victories for the Dutch in Group B. Despite being pegged against Spain, Chile and Australia, they made a mockery of the group with three convincing wins.
On the other side, few teams have seen as much of an increase in confidence as Mexico. The only match in the group stage that they didn't win as a scoreless draw against hosts Brazil—one of many shocking early results. Ever since Miguel Herrera arrived, Mexico went from on the verge of not qualifying to becoming one of the more dangerous knockout-round opponents.
Needless to say, it's going to come down to much more than momentum, as both sides have plenty of that. Let's break down what else these teams can do to gain the upper edge.
|Sun., July 29||Netherlands vs. Mexico||12 p.m.||ESPN|
Strong Start for Giovani dos Santos
As Mexico's fortunes at the World Cup have increased by the match, that of Giovani dos Santos has decreased every time he's stepped on the pitch.
Dos Santos was a force in Mexico's opener against Cameroon, helping create the game-winning goal opportunity and passing at an 89 percent rate, per Squawka. But since then, his impact has gone down, as he created no chances against either Brazil or Croatia. Against Croatia, he hardly touched the ball and was substituted off in the 62nd minute.
Fox Soccer's Kyle McCarthy noticed his disappearing act:
Giovani dos Santos: 17 touches in an hour, per Opta. Little, if any, influence on the game. #MEX— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) June 23, 2014
Playing the most crucial role in Mexico's attack, dos Santos can't disappear from multiple games for El Tri to have a realistic chance of advancing. At least not against a Dutch side that made the 2010 final and looks even better than they did four years ago.
If dos Santos can start strong, it will leave room for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez to make his impact off the bench instead of having to sniff out multiple goals to get back in it—a style that doesn't suit El Tri.
Holland boast formidable and physical defenders that can make life hard on attacking players, but dos Santos has the pace and creative ability that Mexico will need to penetrate it. However, they need him to show up first.
Put Extra Emphasis on Back Line
The Dutch are one of the most attack-happy teams in the tournament, and few teams can match their pace like Mexico. All the makings for a track meet, right?
Not if Mexico want any shot at pulling the upset.
Which tactic would better suit Mexico?
Although they're speedy, there is no doubt that the Mexicans' greatest asset lies in the defending third. Ever since Portugal scored a stoppage-time goal in a World Cup tune-up friendly on June 6, the only goal scored on Mexico was Croatia's irrelevant late goal in a 3-1 loss.
Of course, they can't realistically hope for another clean sheet against the likes of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. But, if the back line of Francisco Javier, Rafael Marquez, Miguel Layun and Hector Moreno show up like they have so far in Brazil, they can hope to hold them to one goal and stay in it.
From then on, Mexico have the speed and confidence at the moment to counter-attack. But there's no way they can afford to be shorthanded in the back line, at any moment.
Let Robben Run Wild
As if there was any doubt before, Arjen Robben has re-affirmed the world so far in Brazil that he's still very much in the mix among the best players on the planet.
The Bayern Munich man has been unstoppable in the open field, gashing defenders from every side with his speed and elusive ability. He has three goals in three matches—one less than Mexico's team scored in the group stage.
Still, El Tri are focusing more on the Dutch attack as a whole than Robben, per Sky Sports Football:
Guillermo Ochoa says Mexico are ready for Holland and will not be focusing their efforts on stopping Arjen Robben. http://t.co/5lWhLEflKc— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) June 28, 2014
It's right of Mexico to be confident enough in their defense to not be scared off by one single player—after all, they did keep Neymar under wraps for 90 minutes. But failing to single out Robben, if that's truly what they're doing, is ill-advised at best.
When Robben isn't locked down, he runs free. When he runs free, he scores goals more automatically than almost any other player in the world. Should Mexico leave him uncovered at any moment, look for the Dutch to go his way.
Jump on Them Early
Yes, the Dutch have three wins in three matches and should feel very good about that. But the opening 45-plus minutes of their recent fixtures have been far from convincing.
The Netherlands trounced Spain in the opener 5-1, but four of the goals came after the 50th minute. They trailed in that match early on, and again versus Australia in the second match before rallying to win 3-2.
Even in their last match against Chile, neither side scored until the 77th minute. Notice a trend here?
Coming in against a confident Mexican side, it's even more important for the Dutch to get off to a strong start. An early goal would shake the confidence of both Mexico's strong back line and on-fire goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Should they fail to do so, Holland fans will be a bit more nervous heading down the stretch knowing their World Cup lives are on the line.
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