The Netherlands are through into the World Cup quarterfinals after a dramatic finish to their game with Mexico. El Tri broke the deadlock early in the second half, but they conceded twice in the final 10 minutes to lose, 2-1.
Mexico were undoubtedly the better side in the game's opening exchanges, with Miguel Layún firing a couple of efforts wide of the Dutch goal before goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen almost sliced a clearance straight into the path of an onrushing attacker. Things went from bad to worse for the Netherlands with the subsequent loss of injured midfielder Nigel de Jong in the ninth minute allowing Mexico to seize full control of the midfield.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal's unusual lineup seemed to have backfired with his unfamiliar central midfield trio looking positionally suspect and allowing Mexico to swarm at them straight through the center. El Tri almost capitalized inside 20 minutes in, but Héctor Herrera skewed his shot wide from inside the penalty area. Carlos Salcido lashed a vicious long-range effort towards goal a few minutes later, but Cillessen was able to beat the ball away.
Mexico was dominant, and it took a defensive mistake to present the Oranje with their best opportunity of the half in stoppage time. Veteran center-back Rafael Márquez gave the ball away deep in his own half, and Arjen Robben was on hand to pounce only to be sandwiched between Márquez and Héctor Moreno in the box. Replays showed Mexico were fortunate for the referee to have not given Robben a penalty kick for Moreno's mauling.
Mexican fans would have been forgiven for thinking the end of the first half would see an end to their superiority, but the Oranje surprisingly came out for the second half unchanged. Within five minutes, the Europeans paid the price when Giovani dos Santos wriggled into some space on the edge of the box. The 25-year-old arrowed a stunning strike straight into the bottom of Cillessen's goal. In Forteleza's burning heat, the Netherlands would have to do things the hard way.
They almost produced a response on a corner just short of the hour when Stefan de Vrij latched onto the end of a Robben corner, only to be denied by a great reaction save from Guillermo Ochoa. The Oranje had been sparked into life when van Gaal introduced winger Memphis Depay in a bid to give his side greater attacking thrust.
However, Robben continued at the heart of Dutch play and almost equalized in the final 20 minutes after dancing past Márquez and through on goal. Unfortunately for him, Ochoa was on hand to deny him from the angle once again. It was beginning to look like the Mexican goalkeeper wouldn't be beaten. Then, inside the final couple of minutes, bang. A Dutch corner popped out to Wesley Sneijder on the edge of the box and the hero of his country's 2010 World Cup run lashed a vicious strike into the Mexican net to tie the score.
It was the start of a stoppage time nightmare for Mexico, whose captain Márquez gave away a penalty in the second minute of added time for an arguable foul on Robben. 76th-minute substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar stepped up and made no mistake. Mexico's quarterfinal dream had evaporated, and the Netherlands sneaked through.
Netherlands: Cillessen; Blind, Vlaar, de Vrij; Kuyt, de Jong (Martins Indi 9'), Wijnaldum, Verhaegh (Depay 56'); Sneijder; Robben, van Persie (Huntelaar 76').
Goals: Sneijder (88'), Huntelaar (pen 90+4').
Mexico: Ochoa; Moreno (Reyes 46'), Márquez, Rodríguez; Layún, Guardado, Salcido, Herrera, Aguilar; dos Santos (Aquino 61'); Peralta (Hernández 75').
Goals: dos Santos (48').