In a rematch of their round of 16 game at this past summer’s World Cup, Mexico avenged its loss with a 3-2 win over the Netherlands on Wednesday in a game played on Dutch soil.
The difference was Carlos Vela, who scored twice upon his return from a self-imposed exile. For nearly 3½ years, Vela had refused callups after he was suspended from the team for disciplinary reasons in late 2010 and heavily criticized for his performances in 2011. It took only eight minutes to remind Mexico what they had missed. Vela had stepped into some vacant space outside the Dutch box and unleashed a rocket, a bending effort into the far top corner that left Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul helpless.
In the 62nd minute, Vela put El Tri ahead a second time after Wesley Sneijder’s own strike from distance had evened the game back up just after halftime, when he’d brought down a poor clearance from the Mexican defense. This time, Jesus Manuel Corona, who had only just come on, connected with Vela over the top for the forward to lash his finish through Krul.
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But it was Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who ultimately won the game. He was played through in the 69th minute, staying onside by no more than a few inches, then circled Krul to slipped in Mexico’s third. All the Dutch could offer in response was Daley Blind’s shot from distance five minutes later, when he ran up the gut and saw his shot deflected by Diego Reyes to wrong-foot goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The win was deserved. While the Netherlands had forged the chances — Memphis Depay was often a nuisance and Arjen Robben was his usual influential self — the target of their service, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, often wasted their efforts. Huntelaar botched several good opportunities, most painfully in the 43rd minute, when a corner fell to him at the far post and he unfathomably missed in front of an open net. Ochoa made a fine save on Georginio Wijnaldum’s header in the late going during a Dutch flurry, after which Quincy Promes blasted the rebound over. Mexico withstood that final barrage to preserve the win.
And, for all their possession, the Dutch looked timid on the ball and in their passing. Rather than a collective menace, as they have historically been, it was individual skill and initiative that kept them in the game. Mexico, meanwhile, absorbed pressure well and only conceded on a pair of long shots. Things could have been worse for the Dutch, had Krul not denied Hernandez with a sprawling reflex save on the line after Andres Guardado had found Vela on the backline, whose cut-back had enabled Chicharito.
The Mexicans not only got some measure of retaliation for their World Cup elimination – which they felt was cruel, given Sneijder’s 88th minute equalizer and a controversial 94th-minute penalty earned by Robben – but continued their fine form. Since the World Cup, they are undefeated in five and have now won four in a row, taking the scalps of Bolivia, Honduras, Panama and the Netherlands.
The Dutch, meanwhile, plunged further into crisis. They have fared exceedingly poorly since earning bronze medals in Brazil. They were beaten by Italy in a friendly and lost two of their first three Euro 2016 qualifiers, to the Czech Republic and Iceland, no less. In their lone home qualifier against Kazakhstan, they were behind for 45 minutes before they turned things around and won 3-1.
Since Louis van Gaal left the job for Manchester United, things haven’t clicked for the Dutch under the less tactically enlightened Guus Hiddink. If his Oranje don’t beat Latvia at home in their next qualifier on Sunday, he has promised to resign.
On the evidence of this loss to a surging Mexico, that seems far from inconceivable.