After a thrilling first day of Round of 16 matches, the Netherlands and Mexico do battle this afternoon for the right to join Brazil and Colombia in the quarterfinal. I’m looking forward to this one; Mexico often dazzled as they escaped Brazil’s Group A with an undefeated 2-0-1 record, while the Netherlands won all three of their Group B matches, including a 5-1 demolition of defending champions Spain.
What’s At Stake
The prize for today’s winner is progression to a mouth-wateringly easy quarterfinal matchup with either Greece or Costa Rica.
The Netherlands have never won the World Cup, despite having been finalists three times (West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978, South Africa 2010). Spain beat them four years ago and they lost to the hosts in their first two finals, despite being – at least in 1974 during the totaalvoetbal era – the best side in the world. The Dutch are confident and expect progression.
Mexico have only twice progressed past the Round of 16, both times on Mexican soil (Mexico 1970, Mexico 1986). They’ve been eliminated at this stage at each of the last five World Cups.
Like several other sides in this tournament, both Mexico and Holland employ three-man central defensive teams with two wingbacks who act as part-time defenders. Today is 5-3-2 vs. 5-3-2.
Despite their 3-0-0 record and ten goals scored in the group stage, Holland play a more defensive variation of 5-3-2 than Mexico. Against Chile especially, but also against Spain, the wingbacks stayed so deep that the Dutch were essentially playing a genuine, full-time five-man defense.
That’s part of manager Louis van Gaal’s game plan: sit back, let the opponents overcommit, and strike on the counterattack with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. It worked wonders against Spain, who were more than happy to push forward and leave gaps at the back, and against Chile, who had to do the same in a match they needed to win. The Dutch looked considerably less comfortable when they tried to take the attacking initiative against Australia.
That means Mexico will probably be afforded plenty of possession. Their two forwards, Gio dos Santos and Oribe Peralta, play very centrally, leaving the wingbacks, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar, to create width and swing in crosses. If Layun and Aguilar get caught too far forward, the Dutch will have the space they need to create problems on the counter.
Players to Watch
Holland: Robin van Persie, the Dutch striker. Having missed the last match with Chile, the Dutch national team’s all-time leading scorer returns from suspension today. Watch how he instantly controls long balls played to him; nobody in the world is better with his chest.
Mexico: Gio dos Santos, the Mexican second striker. He was anonymous against Croatia, but he’ll have an important role to play here in creating a way through a sturdy Dutch defense.
Fernando Palomo and Alejandro Moreno. Palomo is from El Salvador. Moreno is from Venezuela. Neither is Mexican! Not everyone who speaks Spanish is Mexican! Stop it. (And neither one is Argentina’s Andrés “We’re seeing world-class agility!” Cantor from that VW commercial, in case you’re wondering.)
Match-specific Drinking Games
Patience: Take a shot every fifteen minutes until the first goal is scored. How drunk? Probably not too bad. Though these two teams tend to score in the second half (ten of Mexico’s last twelve World Cup goals, eight of Holland’s last nine), today’s match should have plenty of scoring opportunities.
Selfish: Have a sip whenever Holland’s forward and grilled octopus impersonator Arjen Robben goes it alone instead of making an obvious pass to a teammate. How drunk? Angry drunk. Especially if you’re rooting for the Dutch.
Rehydrate: Pause for a water break whenever the players do. This game takes place in Fortaleza, in Brazil’s sweltering Northeast. How drunk? This one might save your life – or one of the players’. Let’s just be thankful Cuauhtemoc Blanco didn’t make the trip.
Holland: Genever Gin.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Holland vs. Chile, Australia vs. Holland, Brazil vs. Mexico, Spain vs. Holland, Mexico vs. Cameroon
Picture credit: cbc.ca