By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A 94th minute penalty from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar gave Holland a 2-1 win over Mexico this afternoon at the Arena Castelão. The Dutch were just minutes from crashing out of the World Cup but turned the tie on its head in the closing stages.
Giovanni dos Santos had fired Mexico ahead three minutes after the restart and more heroics from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa looked to be sending the North Americans on their way. He made a series of spectacular stops, including a fantastic save from Stefan de Vrij to maintain Mexico’s slim advantage.
Yet having conceded just one goal in their previous three outings, the Mexicans were beaten twice in six minutes. First, Wesley Sneijder smashed home from the edge of the area when a corner was not properly cleared on 88 minutes.
Then, as the game entered injury-time, Arjen Robben fell under a challenge from Mexico captain Rafael Marquez. In truth the penalty looked soft and Marquez sarcastically applauded the Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca, as if to indicate he had been fooled by Robben’s con.
Huntelaar stepped up and buried the spot kick in the bottom right hand corner, and there were various looks of relief on Dutch faces at the final whistle. In a game played in stifling heat, the game was stopped twice so players could take on water. The temperature was in excess of 30 degrees and did little to help the technical quality of the contest.
The first half was an even affair, with Holland edging it, but the sides went in goalless at the interval. Three minutes into the second half and Mexico were ahead. Dos Santos used his pace to pick up a loose pass before driving home from outside the penalty area.
Holland had been uncharacteristically quiet in the first half and now had to chase the game. De Vrij looked like he was set to level from a corner but Ochoa spread himself to cover the danger and make a truly incredible save.
The momentum was now firmly with the Europeans. Sneijder blasted an effort high over the bar and as the clock ran down Mexico edged closer to a quarter-final spot, but not for nothing is Sneijder one of the finest midfield players of his generation. Unmarked on the edge of the area, he drilled the ball home to bring Holland level.
Not wanting to go to extra-time, the Dutch piled forward in the final minutes. As Robben reached the byline, he fell over Marquez’s leg to secure the winning penalty.
* The Rio Times Daily Updates feature is offered to help keep you up-to-date with important news as it happens.