The Netherlands had to go very deep to record a come-from-behind win over Mexico in the 2014 World Cup round of 16, scoring twice in the final two minutes to win 2-1.
Wesley Sneijder blasted home from close range with an expert volley, before Arjen Robben was fouled in the box in extra time, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar converted from the spot, erasing Mexico's lead they took early in the second half through Giovani dos Santos.
Sneijder's volley was a thing of beauty, as shared by Buzzfeed's Austin Hunt:
Guillermo Ochoa was his usual dominant self throughout the match, and it was always going to take something special to get the ball past the Mexican stopper.
The Netherlands started with their traditional striker-duo if Robin van Persie and Robben, who had been very effective coming into this match. As ESPN FC highlighted, Van Persie has always played his best football in the group stages, however:
Robin van Persie has scored 5 goals in 8 career World Cup group stage matches. He's scoreless in 5 knockout matches. #NED— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 29, 2014
El Tri did an excellent job of limiting space around the Dutch forwards, who were completely isolated for much of the first half, per Yahoo Singapore:
Goal's Peter McVitie saw the same thing:
Van Persie and Robben just completely outnumbered. They can't even test this defence with pace, only long diagonal balls opening them up.— Peter McVitie (@PeterMcVitie) June 29, 2014
Van Persie failed to make much of an impact on this match, and chasing a lead, manager Louis van Gaal made the decision to replace him with Huntelaar deep into the second half.
Social media couldn't believe Van Gaal would take off his most productive striker at a time when his team was desperate for a goal. Journalist Martin Brian Ansah was particularly critical of the manager's decision:
You don't bench a Robin Van Persie in a critical game like this. He can find a way to make a play. #ned— Martin Brian Ansah (@DaAnsahonSports) June 29, 2014
Of course ,the gamble paid off. Huntelaar assisted Sneijder's goal and converted the penalty, effectively winning his team the match. Opinions on the substitution quickly changed, per Futbol Bible:
Of all the members of the Big Three (Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie), the pint-sized midfielder was perhaps enjoying the least productive campaign of the group. Sneijder had to wait a long time to score this goal, as noted by WhoScored.com:
Wesley Sneijder: Has scored is first goal for Netherlands since October 2013 (vs Turkey) #ned— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 29, 2014
Jan Aage Fjortoft had already written off the Dutchmen, and he was forced to eat his words:
I have said Sneijder is a "has been"- turns out he is a "is"— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) June 29, 2014
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Sneijder's goal was his sixth in a World Cup, tying a high mark for the Dutch team:
DW-Sports was impressed by the sheer power the midfielder got behind the ball:
Sneijder absolutely tattooed that ball into the net. No chance for a save by Ochoa— DW - Sports (@dw_sports) June 29, 2014
STV Sport's Andy Coyle couldn't help himself:
Have they shown the goal-line technology for Sneijder's strike yet? Still not convinced it crossed the line.— Andy Coyle (@STV_Andy) June 29, 2014
The Netherlands came dangerously close to exiting the tournament, but key contributors stepped up when they needed to, and the 2010 losing finalists' World Cup bid is still alive.
A date with the winner of Costa Rica vs. Greece is next on the schedule, and at least on paper, either should be an easier opponent than Mexico.
The Dutch seemed to struggle with the heat quite a bit on Sunday, so Van Gaal and his men must be hoping for a match against the Greeks, who will be less comfortable playing in the Brazilian climate than the Central Americans.
Costa Rica are a lot more attack-minded, however, and the Netherlands have struggled breaking down compact defences. The quarter-final will bring quite the challenge for this team regardless of the opponents, but for now, the Dutch can be happy their tournament isn't over yet.