Netherlands stuns Mexico with two late goals
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of the Netherlands celebrates after scoring a goal during their World Cup game against Mexico at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza, Brazil on Sunday, June 29, 2014. (Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters)
Everything else has happened in this World Cup, so why not a totally unpredictable, crazy, controversial, mind-boggling ending that no one saw coming, a game that offered unfettered joy and Machiavellian cruelty.
It was a game that ended with such unpredictability that both winner and loser were stunned.
Mexico was within two minutes of moving into the World Cup quarterfinals leading the heavily favoured Netherlands 1-0.
There didn’t appear to be any reason to believe it wouldn’t happen.
Then the craziness started.
Wesley Sneijder tied it 1-1 in the 88th minute for the Dutch.
Just as everyone was settling in for a second extra-time game, Arjen Robben did what Arjen Robben is so good at. He made a meal out of a challenge and wound up getting a banquet out of it.
Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca awarded Robben a penalty.
Substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar made no mistake in the 90th minute to give the Netherlands a 2-1 win Sunday and a trip to the quarterfinals.
Was it a penalty or not? The debate will rage for a while but there have been worse fouls not given. In fact, it was the second time in the game that Robben had a shout for a penalty. He had one late in the first half that looked more a penalty than the one awarded.
Mexican coach Miguel Herrera did not mince words.
“It was a penalty that was invented by the referee,” he said. “It was the third time (Robben) dove. If the referee had done the right thing and blown the whistle, given him a card, it wouldn’t have happened again. Instead he didn’t and the penalty was invented.”
No matter. The penalty was given, Huntelaar converted and there was bedlam in the stadium and yet another chapter in the book of Brazil 2014 which is already a best seller.
Mexico was the master of its own demise. When they took a 1-0 lead in the second half, they stopped attacking the Dutch.
“We played a good game but we started to play too defensively and gave up chances to a team that did nothing all game,” Herrera said.
They absorbed the Dutch pressure but it was inevitable that something was going to break loose and in the end, all hell broke loose.
Herrera was upset because he knew his club could have done more to win including continuing to attack and keeping control of the ball.
“(Our players) kept the ball in play instead of going to the corner and making them foul,” he said. “If our players do that, then the referee can’t invent the penalty.”
Yes, Herrera was going to beat that expression into submission.
He was finally asked what he thought was the main reason for his team losing.
“The man with the whistle,” he said.
There was also the man with the foot, Rafael Marquez who probably should have known better than to risk that challenge so late in the game.
Herrera, perhaps the most colourful coach at the World Cup was upset at more than the Portuguese referee. He ran off a list of how his club had the short end of decisions in games against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Japan when Mexico scored two good goals that were called back on wrong off-side decisions.
The last few minutes of wackiness actually saved a game that didn’t have much to offer.
Mexico deserved better than a 0-0 draw in the first half. The Dutch couldn’t cope with their speed as they allowed the Mexicans to come at them.
Whether it was the heat of Fortaleza -- where FIFA implemented the first cooling breaks in World Cup history -- or overconfidence, the Dutch kept giving Mexico the run of the ball.
Mexico would curse the number of chances they wasted considering what happened at the end.
Mexico just kept coming forward and finally they were rewarded with a goal from Giovani Dos Santos.
The goal acted as an electric prod to the Netherlands.
In the years when the Netherlands were more bridesmaid than brides, they would have found it difficult to come back from that deficit. But this is a team that has found another gear.
But the Mexicans scared them and it might be a valuable lesson to the Dutch.
They’ve already fallen behind twice in this tournament and gotten away with it.
There likely won’t be a third.