Van Gaal credits cooling break as reason behind Netherlands victory
JUN 30, 2014 4:23a ET
In searing conditions at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza on Sunday, play was halted for three minutes in each half to allow players from both teams to take on much-needed fluids during the last-16 clash.
Mexico looked on course to progress as they led through Giovani dos Santos' 48th-minute opener, while goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa later produced an astonishing point-blank save from Stefan de Vrij.
But with time running out, Van Gaal switched his formation and it paid dividends with Wesley Sneijder smashing home an 88th-minute equaliser and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scoring from the spot in the fourth minute of added time after Arjen Robben was brought down by Rafael Marquez.
Van Gaal said: "I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save.
"Then I moved to plan B and yes, I did that in the cooling break. That is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks.
"Did you see what I did?" he asked reporters.
"Van Gaal brought on target man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, took Dirk Kuyt out of defence to partner him in attack and had his team pump long balls into the Mexico penalty area.
"It's a big compliment that my players picked up on it immediately. We have a modest group of players but they have outstanding team spirit and this is ultimately what led to the victory.
"They had faith and believed until the very end. The humidity was not in our favour. We were fresher and fitter than the Mexicans.
"Not only did my players have belief that they could perform today, they also were fit for this match.
"Yes, it was an escape but in the second half we showed that we could create more opportunities and we played three different systems."
Van Gaal was forced into an early change as Nigel de Jong limped off after only nine minutes, with the Netherlands boss concerned over the defensive midfielder.
"It's a groin injury. He is one of the most important elements in the team, so that was a big drawback, a big setback for us," he admitted.
Captain Robin van Persie, who will play under Van Gaal at Manchester United next season, returned after suspension but was replaced by Huntelaar in the second period.
Van Gaal confirmed there was no injury concern over the striker, saying: "I took him off for tactical reasons."