2014 FIFA World Cup: Day 17 Recap

Arjen Robben pushes his way through Mexico's defence
Arjen Robben pushes his way through Mexico's defence

Dutch Show Courage Against Mexico

The 2014 World Cup will be remembered for its last-minute heroics—the Dutch showing against Mexico was only the most dramatic finish we’ve seen yet. Mexico held control of the game through the first half and much of the second, but in the dying moments the game turned on a dime, sending the Mexican team from ecstasy to agony in mere minutes.

Mexico spent the first 45 minutes carving paths into the Dutch penalty area, creating chances but just missing the final touch that would give them a lead; on the other side of the field, the Netherlands, for all their possession and control, couldn’t find a single crack in the formidable Mexican defence. The first breakthrough came just past halftime, when Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos fought off a Dutch defender to create just enough room for a shot. The ball curled gracefully into the bottom corner of the goal, beyond the reach of Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen, giving Mexico the lead they deserved. 

As the game wore on and the players wore down under the Brazilian sun, the Netherlands found another gear in their game. Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, named man of the match, stopped multiple point-blank shots that could have easily eluded a lesser goalie. Meanwhile, Arjen Robben shovelled coal into his team’s engine with ambitious crosses and fearless runs, and it was his corner kick that sparked the Dutch to tie the game. In the 88th minute, Robben spun his cross toward the far post, Klaas Huntelaar headed it back toward the top of the box and Wesley Sneijder just about cracked the ball in half with a volley that Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa could only watch—had he gotten in front of it, the ball surely would have picked him up and carried him into the goal, too. Just minutes later Robben turned the game yet again, carrying the ball into the Mexican penalty area in added time before being tripped up and earning a penalty. Huntelaar, a fresh-legged substitute brought on in the 76th minute to relieve captain Robin Van Persie, calmly tucked the penalty kick just inside the left post to lift his team into the quarterfinals and send an extremely impressive Mexican squad home.

Costa Rica and Greece Go the Distance

The glass slipper of the World Cup quarterfinals fits Cinderella side Costa Rica perfectly. It took 120 minutes, a red card and a penalty shootout, but Los Ticos are headed to the next round of the World Cup for the first time in their country’s history while Greece’s tournament is finished.

The opening half was largely conservative on both sides. Costa Rica came out energized and looked willing to make the Greek defence earn its upstanding reputation. But the balance gradually shifted towards Greece, who showed a bit more offensive thrust than we’ve seen from them in this World Cup. Boos rained down at the end of 45 minutes as the bored fans let their players hear their disapproval of both sides’ ineffectual play, though.

The second half looked to be starting the way the first finished, but Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz finally gave his side’s supporters something to cheer about in the 52nd minute. The buildup looked like it was well-contained by Greece, but a pass snuck through a seam along the top of the Greek penalty area and Ruiz spun a slow rolling shot that froze every player in a blue shirt, barely rippling the net as it weighted the balance in Costa Rica’s favour.

In a moment Costa Rica’s sure win was cast into doubt, though, as Oscar Duarte earned a second yellow card and was sent off, forcing his team to defend their lead while down a player. They looked to have dodged a hail of bullets, but just as the clock rolled over 90 minutes Greece made a last push forward. Navas got hands on Greece’s first shot, but could do nothing to stop Socratis Papastathopoulos from scoring and sending the game to extra time. Thirty more minutes had no effect other than to further sap the players’ energy, so for the second time in the knockout round a game was sorted on penalty kicks.

Every shooter scored through the first three rounds, but Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas batted away a strike by Theofanis Gekas, Michael Umana upheld his team’s scoring streak and Costa Rican dreams came true. 

Netherlands will face Costa Rica next Saturday in the quarterfinals.

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