The Netherlands are on a quest to reach the World Cup finals for the second tournament in a row, and they begin that quest Sunday with a knockout game against Mexico.
It has been a memorable World Cup for Netherlands, who avenged their narrow 1-0 loss to Spain in the 2010 final by coming out and dominating the team in the opener. Netherlands then followed that 5-1 victory with a 3-2 win over Australia and a 2-0 shutout of Chile to finish Group B with a 3-0 record and 10 goals scored.
Mexico defeated Cameroon 1-0 in their opener and then drew Brazil to a 0-0 deadlock before they finished with a 3-1 win over Croatia.
Netherlands will get a break in this match as leading scorer Robin van Persie returns from his one-game suspension for accumulating two yellow cards, so van Persie and Arjen Robben will once again form a potent scoring tandem.
There are some issues Netherlands must face. Even though van Persie is back, the team is clearly not at full strength. Leroy Fer has a hamstring issue that may keep him out of this game completely, or at the very least hamper his playing ability. Bruno Martins Indi suffered a concussion and the after-effects of that will likely sideline the star for this game.
The last time these teams met on the World Cup stage was 1998, when they battled to a 2-2 tie after Mexico trailed 2-0 at one point.
All indications are that this will be Mexico’s swan song in this year’s World Cup, if you believe past statistics. Mexico hasn’t advanced past the opening knockout game since 1986, having lost five straight round-of-16 contests dating back to 1994.
Mexico traditionally scores their goals late in World Cup contests, as 10 of their last 12 goals have come after halftime. Netherlands are the same way, having scored eight of their last nine goals in the second half.
There are no major injuries for Mexico, but Jose Juan Vazquez is sitting out this game due to a card violation and that could pose some problems.
Prediction: Netherlands 2, Mexico 1
Do not be surprised to see a scoreless game at the half or a 1-0 contest at the least. These defenses will seek out holes in each other’s game throughout the first half and target those weaknesses later on. The second half should be the more exciting of the two as Netherlands moves on to the quarterfinal round and a date with either Costa Rica or Greece.