Day 17 of the 2014 World Cup was characterized by the late drama and gutsy performances that have become somewhat routine in this tournament.
The Netherlands pulled off a late 2-1 comeback victory to dispatch an incredibly game Mexico side. In the day's second match, 10-man Costa Rica defeated Greece via penalty kicks after 120 minutes of play couldn't separate the two sides.
Both teams bring compelling storylines into the quarterfinals. It's a dream run for Costa Rica, as they weren't expected to make it out of a group featuring Uruguay, Italy and England, let alone make it past the round of 16.
The Oranje look like men on a mission, determined to avenge their runner-up finish in the 2010 World Cup and bring home the title for the first time in the nation's history.
Here is the updated bracket for the World Cup followed by full match recaps from the action on Day 17.
|Netherlands vs. Mexico||NED 2-1 MEX|
|Costa Rica vs. Greece||CR 1-1 GRE (CR win 5-3 on penalties)|
An interactive bracket can be found at FIFA.com.
Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
Netherlands withstood the sweltering heat in Fortaleza, Brazil, and an aggressive Mexico side to secure a thrilling 2-1 comeback victory courtesy of late goals from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The game started off brightly for the Netherlands, as the Dutch looked to continue their use of sound defense and blistering counterattacks to defeat Mexico.
The play immediately dropped off for the European side when Nigel de Jong was forced to leave the game in the ninth minute with an apparent leg injury. Bruno Martins Indi came in to replace the combative midfielder.
Mexico created several strong chances in the first half. Oribe Peralta led the line for El Tri and tied up Dutch center-backs Ron Vlaar and Martins Indi, leaving plenty of space for the likes of Hector Herrera and Giovani dos Santos to make dangerous runs.
ESPN FC's Tom Marshall was particularly impressed with Peralta:
Oribe Peralta superb so far. Battling for every ball, creating chances.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) June 29, 2014
Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen looked particularly shaky early on, but Mexico couldn't make a breakthrough in the first half despite all their chances.
Arjen Robben and Sneijder were impressive in the first half, with the former making his usual pacy, direct runs and the latter doing a strong job in distribution.
Mexico got the goal they deserved just after the restart, with dos Santos firing home a long-range stunner from the edge of the penalty box to make the score 1-0. ESPN FC has the highlight:
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal sensed his side needed to make a change after the goal. He brought on speedy winger Memphis Depay and switched from a 5-3-2 to the traditional 4-3-3, per Dutch soccer writer Elko Born:
Memphis Depay is warming up. Louis van Gaal is probably looking to switch to 4-3-3 in an attempt to take the initiative.— Elko Born (@Elko_B) June 29, 2014
This brought the Oranje back into the game, but they couldn't seem to break through Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who made a couple of point-blank saves to preserve the lead for his country.
The Dutch kept firing, but the match looked increasingly desperate as the time continued to melt away in the simmering Estadio Castelao.
Van Gaal continued to make changes, taking off star striker Robin van Persie—completely ineffective during the match—for Huntelaar. The Dutch eventually got the goal they needed, with Sneijder rocketing a shot past a helpless Ochoa in the 88th minute.
Mexico, just minutes from a trip to the quarterfinals, were reeling after the goal. The Dutch pushed the pace into extra time, and Robben eventually drew a penalty in the box on a late challenge from Rafael Marquez.
Robben has a reputation for embellishing calls and Mexico vehemently protested the penalty to no avail. ESPN FC's Graham Hunter gave his take on the situation:
Ok no more #Robben. Was a pen. Great, great footballer. Does exaggerate and dive more than most. On balance World Cup better with than not— Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) June 29, 2014
Huntelaar buried the penalty kick, and the Dutch held on for the final minutes to complete the stunning 2-1 victory:
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted the referee-imposed cooling breaks worked wonders for Van Gaal's tactical decisions:
Van Gaal says he changed tactics during the water break. Might as well let coaches call time-outs then. Paradigm change for the sport.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 29, 2014
Mexico will feel hard done by the penalty, as they controlled the majority of the match and held a lead for 40 minutes. Netherlands will have to feel good about their chances of a deep World Cup run with a match against Costa Rica set for the quarterfinals.
Costa Rica 1-1 (5-3 penalties) Greece
Costa Rica survived a man disadvantage, extra time and the immense pressure of newfound expectations to defeat Greece 5-3 on penalties after neither team could break a 1-1 deadlock in 120 minutes of play.
The first half was a rather dull affair, even with Greece showing signs they were in an unusually offensive-minded mood.
Striker Georgios Samaras and attacking midfielder Dimitrios Salpingidis did their best to take attackers on with the ball, but they received very little support from their midfield and true chances were few and far between.
Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas made a brilliant save to deny Salpingidis midway through the first half. Bleacher Report UK has the highlight:
Costa Rica, playing with a defensive 5-4-1 formation, looked content to maintain possession and wait for the right opportunity to strike. Of course, that opportunity never came in the first half, as Los Ticos finished without a single shot on target.
The players appeared content with the languid pace of the game; both teams seemed reluctant to stretch the field of play and possibly open up an opportunity for the opposition.
The Northern Echo's Scott Wilson had a decidedly pessimistic outlook on the game:
The first few minutes of the second half looked like more of the same, until Costa Rica made an unlikely breakthrough. Bryan Ruiz was left wide open at the top of the box and hit a slow-roller into the bottom corner of the Greece goal that not only gave Los Ticos the 1-0, but also perfectly encapsulated the pace of the game up to that point:
Costa Rica controlled the pace of the match over the next 20 minutes, but tragedy struck when defender Oscar Duarte picked up a second yellow card and was sent off in the 66th minute of the match.
Greece were spurred on by the advantage, and Navas turned into the busiest player on the pitch dealing with corner kicks, swooping crosses and well-struck shots.
Just when Costa Rica looked like they might escape from this match with a nervy victory, Papastathopoulos struck a rebound shot past Navas just seconds into stoppage time for the heart-breaking equalizer.
Greece got the majority of touches in extra time, but they were unable to complete the comeback after 105 minutes of play. Cue the dreaded penalty kicks.
How far will Costa Rica go in the World Cup?
Costa Rica and Greece each scored their first three penalty kicks with aplomb. Joel Campbell calmly buried the fourth for Los Ticos, and Navas followed his shot with an excellent save on Theofanis Gekas to give Costa Rica the 4-3 advantage.
The world watched as Michael Umana struck his penalty kick into the upper left corner to give his team the shocking victory.
Costa Rica will have to take on a surging Netherlands side in the quarterfinals. If they can defeat the Oranje, it would surely confirm their World Cup run as the most sensational of all time.