RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) It took a late penalty to send the Dutch into the quarterfinals and prolong Mexico’s miserable memories of the World Cup’s second round, casting Arjen Robben as a savior in one country and a villain in the other.
A Netherlands attack that scored five goals against 2010 champion Spain in its opening match needed 88 minutes to find a way past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in oppressive heat on Sunday.
Once they did, it happened quickly. Wesley Sneijder’s bullet-like strike in the 88th minute canceled out Giovani Dos Santos’ 48th-minute opener for Mexico. Klaas Jan Huntelaar sealed the 2-1 win with a calmly-taken penalty late in stoppage time after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez took down Robben in the area.
Netherlands will next play on Saturday in Salvador against the winner of the second-round match at Recife between Costa Rica and Greece, two teams which had never previously advanced beyond the group stage.
The veteran Dutch forward had been dangerous in attack but all his efforts had been fruitless, as had his numerous appeals for penalties and fouls.
”Unbelievable,” Robben said. ”Five minutes from full time, we were out.”
It was unbelievable for Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, too. The effusive coach was mystified that the penalty was awarded by referee Pedro Proenca, disputing the contact that resulted in Robben sprawling on the pitch.
”Today it was the man with the whistle who eliminated us from the World Cup,” Herrera said. ”We ended up losing because he whistled a penalty that did not exist.
”I repeat this because (Robben) dived three times. The referee should have cautioned him. If that had happened, Robben would have been cautioned or even sent off.”
The Costa Ricans started the tournament as long, long shots but showed by advancing on top of a group containing former champions Italy, Uruguay and England that they’re a dangerous proposition for any teams in Brazil.
Greece sealed its place in the knockout stages with a late penalty winner against Ivory Coast, scoring two goals and conceding four in the group stage.
With temperatures hitting 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) and in 68 percent humidity, FIFA instituted cooling breaks 30 minutes into each half in Fortaleza so players could rehydrate.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal used the second-half break to make a tactical change, switching from a 5-3-2 system to a more traditional Dutch 4-4-3, bringing Huntelaar in to replace the tiring Robin van Persie.
”Yes, we escaped,” Van Gaal said. ”But we showed that we could create more chances with 4-3-3, and the players handled this shift very well.”