Wednesday - Aug 23, 2017

Netherlands leave it very late against Mexico while Costa Rica send the Greeks home from a perfect penalty kick shootout

Netherlands leave it very late against Mexico while Costa Rica send the Greeks home from a perfect penalty kick shootout

Sunday’s eighth round knockout stage matches both went down to the final whistle, with the Dutch team literally coming back from the dead to snatch victory in the most dramatic fashion after looking down and out in the searing heat of the Estadio Castelao stadium in Fortaleza.

From the kick-off the Dutch found it hard going against a well organized Mexican side, with Robin Van Persie, back from suspension, looking subdued and Arjen Robben is well contained. Louis van Gaal was obviously concerned about neutralizing the Mexican strike force playing with three central defenders and the team seemed prepared to soak up pressure and hope for a Counterstrike that, as the game progressed, seemed farther and farther away.

The Mexicans obviously adjusted better to the heat factor which reached a peak of 38.8° during the match, meaning that the referee applied the FIFA ruling which allowed for two cooling breaks during the match on the 30th and 60th minute. In fact, it got so hot in exposed parts of the stadium, that many fans, among them Brazilian and Mexican, abandoned their seats to get out of the sun, sacrificing a ringside view in preference of being in the shade.

The first half was well matched with neither side really creating many chances, and the prospect of a draw began to look a reality until just six minutes into the second half Dos Santos gathered the ball 30 yards out, evaded a tackle from Daley Blind and thumped a powerful and accurate left-foot shot into the bottom corner to give the Mexicans the lead. A lead which they almost doubled just a few minutes later when central defender Marquez headed just over from a corner kick.

With nothing to lose at this stage the Dutch stepped up their attacking efforts, particularly on the counter break, although the Mexicans were still coping, Van Gaal, with the minutes ticking away, and getting visibly concerned, began to subtly change his team’s tactics, Just before the second water break Van Gaal pushed on super sub Memphis Depay in place of right-sided defender Paul Verhaigh. Almost immediately the Netherlands were very close to going level with only the superb instincts of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa keeping out a header from Stefan de Vrij via the post.

Despite the unrelenting pressure the Dutch were finding it difficult to crack the Mexican defence, with some of their veteran players, including Dirk Kuyt, making his 100th appearance for Holland and Robin van Persie visually tiring. In fact Van Gaal surprised a few people by substituting his captain and leading goal scorer van Persie with a quarter of an hour remaining, bringing in another veteran, Klaas-Jan Huntelar in his place.

Going into the last few minutes the Dutch really piled on the pressure with Robben moving into overdrive. Despite the ball pinging around the Mexican penalty area, no one could find that elusive equalizer until Wesley Sneijder took the bull by the horns, pouncing on to a loose ball and gratefully firing an unstoppable shot low beyond Ochoa to grab the Dutch back into the game by the skin of their teeth with just two minutes remaining of normal time. Quiet in the group stages, Sneijder goal was his fifth in knockout matches in the World Cup.

With five minutes of stoppage time added on, both teams, as well as the fans, had just a few minutes to come to terms with having to undergo next half-hour in the sun. That was until, with stoppage time almost over, Aryen Robben mustered his last ounces of energy to set off a mazy run along the touchline and into the penalty area where he was pulled down by the Mexico captain Rafael Marquez and Portuguese referee Pedro Proença had little hesitation in pointing to the spot, despite the desperate protests of the Mexican players.

With Holland’s first choice penalty taker, Robin van Persie, sitting in the shade it was down to his substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelar to step up, which he duly did slamming the penalty home in the most professional style to send the Dutch into the quarterfinals and the Mexicans lamenting on what might have been.

In the other Eighth Round match, played last night in Recife, by virtue of producing the perfect penalty kick shootout, Costa Rica made it deservedly into the quarterfinals of the World Cup beating Greece 5-3 in a penalty shootout.

In the first half both teams were very wary of each other and possibly overwhelmed by the occasion with neither creating any real chances or causing any excitement.

The second half was slightly more up key with the Costa Ricans beginning to move forward and showing some attacking flair especially from the lively Joel Campbell.

It was no major surprise when the Costa Ricans took the lead in the 52nd minute, when Brian Ruiz almost mis hit a shot from outside the penalty area which the Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis completely ignored allowing the ball to roll slowly past him into the net, without making a move.

It didn’t seem likely that the Greeks would be capable of raising the level of football they have shown in the tournament so far to get back into the game, and their chances were even given a boost when Costa Rican defender Óscar Duarte was shown his second yellow card and dismissed from the field in the 66th minute.

Duarte’s absence saw the game began to open up a little, with Costa Rica is attempting to press forward, but being increasingly pushed back as the number imbalances began to play its part. As was the case in the first match of the evening with just two minutes remaining, the Greeks drew level, again after the Costa Ricans failed to clear the ball properly after goalkeeper Keylor Navas had somewhat ineffectually parried a Gekas shot into the path of Papastathopoulos who gratefully knocked the ball home. It was almost like déjà vu when Kostas Mitroglou sent in a bullet header, which looked net bound all the way until Navas made amends for his previous blunder, superbly tipped over the bar to send the teams into extra time.

The Costa Ricans were on the back foot for most of the extra time period with Navus saving them on more than one occasion until inevitably the penalty kick shootout came along.

If the match itself could be described as disappointing their was nothing to complain about when it came to the penalty kick shootout, with the first seven spot-kicks were confidently dispatched before once again Navas made his final and decisive contribution, saving from an obviously under pressure Gekas which meant that Umana had to convert to put Costa Rica through which he duly did to make it a perfect five out of five from the spot.

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