World Cup 2014: Matchday Seventeen (Last 16)

Netherlands 2 – 1 Mexico

The intense and unrelenting heat badly affected the game in the first half, as both teams looked lethargic at times, more content to pass the ball around for long spells then actually push on and try and score. The Dutch, perhaps more unused to it, were far more guilty, and their dominance in the possession stats belied their total lack of bite in the final third. Mexico would withdraw when they lost the ball, content to frustrate, the Dutch were doing the same.

Only, Mexico were looking a bit more handy upfront, with Herrera and Layun repeatedly making themselves a problem for the Dutch defence. Cillessen, while not tested too unduly, was still forced into making several saves, something that Ochao did not have to do in the opening 45. The game went dead in the baking heat as the whistle approached, and it seemed like the kind of game destined for a shoot-out.

Taking advantage of some brief post-half time energy, Mexico pressed hard in the opening minutes of the second 45 and Dos Santos distant effort was as surprising as it was welcome. Now it appeared as if one team was willing to take the game by the scruff of the neck, press on, and out the opposition to the sword.

But Mexico did not do that. Instead they dropped back, content to leave only Dos Santos and later Hernandez upfront, inviting the Dutch onto them in numbers. For almost the entire rest of the game it was Dutch control, as they took off the ineffective Van Persie and sent on the more useful Huntelaar. After a long period of poor play Sneijder was getting more involved, Depay was being useful, and Robben’s teasing runs from the right to centre were a constant problem for the Mexican defence. The chances were coming for the Dutch – De Vrij’s header deflected onto the post and Robben’s close range effort saved by Ochao’s legs – but still the Mexicans held on.

It was surprising to see the Mexicans suddenly looking so tired, and the goal almost seemed inevitable. From another of the many corners the Netherlands won in the second, Sneijder inexplicably left in figurative acres of space inside the Mexican area, there to smash home and level.

With so much injury time over the cooling breaks, the rampant Dutch had all the time they needed. The foul on Robben for the penalty was legitimate, even if the player exaggerated the effect. Huntelaar took a good penalty, and that was that.

The Mexicans wrote their own doom by falling back in the manner that they did after going ahead. The Dutch stayed resilient and calm in the face of impending disaster, made the opportunities and took two of them. Again their defence was dodgy, but they are World Cup quarter finalists, deservedly. The Mexicans, out in the Last 16 again, bring to an end one of the most topsy turvy World Cup campaigns in the history of the sport.





Costa Rica 1 – 1 Greece AET (Costa Rica Win 5 – 3 In Penalty Shoot Out)

A contest that was always going to be a little hard to call opened in pedestrian fashion, as both teams adjusted to the heat and felt each other out. Costa Rica, as was expected, took the initiative after that, though largely due to the acquiescence of the defence minded Greeks. Even with that though, it took a while for the Costa Rican dominance in possession to give them anything, save a multitude of wayward or failing efforts in the opening phases.

The Greeks were content to play their long ball game, Samaras the usual target, when he could be bothered to actually try and track the balls down. It wasn’t really getting them much, but then the Greeks ended up with the opportunity of the first half, with Salpingdis’ short range effort kept out by the shins of Navas.

Samaras had a decent chance with a header early in the second before the game was blown wide open by a few crazy minutes of play. First, Ruiz’s shot trickled past a surprisingly motionless Karnezis in the Greek goal to give the Costa Rican’s a barely deserved lead, before Duarte got his second yellow and altered the pace of the game considerably.

Greece not only had to attack to sytay in the tournament, but they had to attack with the advantage of an extra man, the kind of thing they are very unused to. And for the next half an hour try they did, with a mixture of long crosses and shorter pass work down the left hand side. The chances created were scrappy affairs as Costa Rica closed ranks and packed the penalty area, with Navas alert to many rebound opportunities that came Greece’s way.

They were still making the chances and were still flinging themselves at the Costa Rican’s as the game ticked down. Papastathopoulos’ rebound effort, after Navas had saved from Gekas, was well deserved, and sent a suddenly entertaining and intriguing tie into extra time – though sub Mitroglou’s fine header could have won it for Greece before then, but for Navas’ athleticism.

Greece dominated in the additional 30, doing everything they could to get the winner. For some reason Costa Rica decided to have a go, getting sucked in to the Greek half during set-pieces. That left them frighteningly vulnerable on the counter, and on a few occasions Greece should have punished them more. None more so than Mitroglou, whose close range effort in the dying moments was put scandalously off target before Navas even touched it.

To penalties then, and it was an attackers shoot-out for the most part, until Navas’ brilliant parry from, Gekas’ kick. He was off his line early of course, but that seems to be standard procedure.  It was left to Umana to seal it. Costa Rica’s adventure continues, and an intriguing contest is to come with them and the Dutch. The Greeks had their chances and failed to take them, but were doing well to get to the Last 16 at any rate.

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