The Netherlands scored twice in the dying minutes through Wesley Sneijder and a Klaas Jan Huntelaar penalty to move into the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 2-1 win over Mexico on Sunday.
In a match conditioned by the baking heat and humidity in Fortaleza, Giovani dos Santos looked to have Mexico on the way to their first quarter-final appearance on foreign soil when he opened the scoring three minutes into the second-half.
However, Sneijder levelled with a thumping volley from the edge of the area two minutes from time before Huntelaar converted from the spot in stoppage time after Rafael Marquez had upended Arjen Robben.
Robben confessed penalty unfair, says Mexico captain!
Louis van Gaal’s men will now face Costa Rica or Greece in the last eight in Salvador on Saturday.
The Netherlands had been disrupted by an early injury to Nigel de Jong as he hobbled off to be replaced by Bruno Martins Indi.
Mexico’s Hector Herrera then had the clearest opening of the first 45 minutes as he collected Oribe Peralta’s pass on the edge of the area and cut inside before dragging a right-foot shot inches wide.
Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen was then forced into his first save of the afternoon by a long-range effort from Carlos Salcido.
The Netherlands didn’t register an effort on target until the 26th minute when Robin van Persie skewed wide form a narrow angle after collecting Stefan de Vrij’s pass inside the area.
Both sides were then handed the chance to cool off for three minutes at the half-hour mark for the first time at a World Cup due to the searing temperatures.
Cillessen then made a fine stop to prevent dos Santos opening the scoring with a low effort.
However, the Netherlands were left aggrieved just a minute before the break when Robben appeared to have been clipped by Hector Moreno inside the area.
Mexico got off to a flying start in the second-half as Dos Santos held off a challenge from Daley Blind to thump home his first international goal in a competitive match for two years from 25 yards.
Oribe Peralta nearly made it 2-0 eight minutes later with a curling effort that Cillessen did well to claim at the first attempt.
Moments later it was Guillermo Ochoa who made an incredible stop to prevent Stefan de Vrij levelling as he turned the defender’s volley onto the post from point-blank range.
Sneijder then saw a deflected effort fly inches past as the Netherlands went in search of an equaliser.
Ochoa had to come to his side’s rescue again 17 minutes from time when Robben escaped the clutches of Marquez but saw his low effort turned behind by the Mexican stopper.
Dutch boss Louis van Gaal then surprisingly replaced captain Van Persie with Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
However, his decision was to prove inspired as firstly Huntelaar turned Robben’s corner in the direction of the lurking Sneijder to power home from the edge of the box on.
And after Robben was adjudged by Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca to have been clipped by Marquez in the fourth minute of stoppage time, the Schalke striker coolly stroked home the resulting penalty to eliminate Mexico at the last 16 stage for a sixth consecutive World Cup.
With his team down to 10 men for nearly an hour, Keylor Navas made sure Costa Rica’s last line of defense held firm.
The goalkeeper came through with a string of stops in regulation and extra time and then made the only save in a penalty shootout to send Costa Rica through to the World Cup quarterfinals on Sunday with a win over Greece.
After Navas dived to his right to push out the effort by Theofanis Gekas, Costa Rica defender Michael Umana scored the decisive spot kick for a 5-3 win in the shootout, sending the team sprinting down the pitch to embrace its goalkeeper. The game had finished 1-1 following extra time, after Greece equalized in second-half injury time.
“It was only a dream for us, a dream that became a reality,” Navas said. “A dream that was dreamt by an entire country.”
Costa Rica will play one of the tournament favorites the Netherlands in the quarterfinals on Saturday in a surprising appearance in the last eight for the small country that has a quarter of the population of Brazil’s biggest city and which hardly anyone picked to even make it past the group stage.
“To the entire people in Costa Rica, those at home and out on the streets, this is for you,” Costa Rica’s Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “This is a people that love football and they deserve it. … We will continue fighting. We will go on. We see beautiful things.”
The victory also delighted the majority of the just over 41,000 fans in Recife as the Brazilian locals shouted for Costa Rica throughout the game and often broke out into chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ticos!” — using the common nickname for Costa Ricans.
Greece was often booed.
Costa Rica went ahead in the 52nd minute with a coolly taken goal by captain Bryan Ruiz, but the game changed when Oscar Duarte clumsily lunged at Greece’s Jose Holebas in the 66th and was sent off with a second yellow card.
Pouring forward, the Greeks did beat Navas in injury time when defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos smashed in a rebound to make the team’s numerical advantage eventually pay. Yet Navas kept denying the Greeks through extra time and then, crucially, when he dived, threw up a hand and pushed Gekas’ spot-kick away at the end.
“Obviously he has to be congratulated,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said of Costa Rica’s ‘keeper. “If it weren’t for (him), the results would have been different.”
Santos was sent to the stands by Australian referee Ben Williams just before the penalties and said he watched the shootout on a television inside the stadium.
“Sadness,” he said of Greece’s elimination and his last game in charge of the team. “Definitely sadness. Not much (else) goes through your mind at that time.”
The red card for Duarte changed the game — which Costa Rica had slowly begun to control — and Greece surged forward for most of the remainder of the match.
But, with the exception of Papastathopoulos’ goal, they just couldn’t get past Navas as shot after shot was blocked. Greece had 13 shots on target to Costa Rica’s two.
Navas smothered a volley from Dimitris Salpingidis from point-blank range in the first half. After the equalizer, he threw himself high to tip over a header from substitute Konstantinos Mitroglou that would have surely been the winner in the dying seconds of regulation time. He then made three crucial stops in extra time, when Costas Katsouranis, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Mitroglou were all denied.