Mere minutes remained in the Netherlands' knockout match against Mexico, who held a 1-0 edge for nearly all of the second half. The Dutch's remarkable group play was about to be all for nothing, until they rallied with two late goals during the closing minutes to salvage a thrilling victory on Sunday.
Just like that, the Netherlands went from the brink of elimination to a team with a great chance of advancing all the way to semifinals, perhaps further.
El Tri gained the lead from a goal by Giovani dos Santos during the 48th minute, but Wesley Sneijder struck with an equalizer 40 minutes later, just when all hope appeared lost for Holland.
Arjen Robben may have embellished some contact on an inadvertent trip from Rafael Marquez to draw a penalty, which produced the winner. Watch the play for yourself, courtesy of ESPN Highlights on Twitter, to decide whether the official's decision was justified.
The final score, however, reflected the level of play throughout the 90-plus minutes. As shown by Squawka Football, they led Mexico in several key categories.
Netherlands had Mexico on their toes all game. According to FIFA, they amassed 48 dangerous attacks to Mexico's 28, earning 10 corners and 29 crosses. After being held in check for 88 minutes, their treacherous attack proved too much to contain all day.
Although Mexico played the underdog role in their bid to reach the quarterfinals, Mexico's physical style posed difficulty for the Netherlands. Through group play, El Tri surrendered just one goal, which created a stark contrast against the Dutch's tournament-leading 10 scores.
They now await the winner of Costa Rica and Greece's upcoming clash, and either way Netherlands are a strong choice to triumph. Sitting at No. 22 in ESPN's Soccer Power Index, Costa Rica have played over their heads so far. Greece are an even bigger long-shot to make noise, having advanced past group play despite a minus-two goal differential.
Argentina or Belgium would provide a tough semifinal slate, but neither opponent is insurmountable for Robin van Persie and Co.'s formidable offense.
For those unimpressed by Sunday's victory, consider the Netherlands' preceding path to the knockout stage. They decimated Spain, the defending World Cup champions and a strong contender to make a deep push at a repeat. Then they shut out Chile, who gave Brazil all they could handle in a tough loss on Saturday.
Prior to their victory on Sunday, Sneijder talked about conquering the difficult Group B in an interview on FIFA.com.
If you're in a group with Spain, Chile and Australia and you come first, winning all three games and scoring ten goals, then you've done a fantastic job. Almost no-one considered this to be possible but the important thing for us was to believe, and that's what we did from day one. In any tournament, you have to go in with the ambition of bringing home the cup, and that's how we approached this one. You can see that desire in every game we've played and it's a compliment to the whole team.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Netherlands have the third highest probability of winning the World Cup (14 percent) behind Argentina (16) Brazil (41), who showed some weakness in their latest victory. At 77 percent, they have the most likely path to the semifinals.
If the early action from the knockout stage has taught us anything, no outcome can be taken for granted during the single-elimination portion of the tournament. Brazil, the perennial favorites, nearly met their end against Chile, needing some clutch saves from Julio Cesar and another key stop from the crossbar to advance.
Nevertheless, the hosting nation came inches away from missing the quarterfinals in a match that made them look mortal and beatable. With the top contender suddenly looking normal, the Netherlands don't have to look up at anyone else in the bracket.
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