The pre-match omens weren't good for Mexico. El Tri had been knocked out of the World Cup finals at the second round stage in all 5 editions since 1994 and failed to win any of their previous 4 meetings with the Netherlands - losing 3 and drawing 1 - conceding at least 2 goals on each occasion.
Robin van Persie returned from suspension for the Dutch, while Dirk Kuyt kept his place as left wing-back from the 2-0 victory over Chile and won his 100th cap. Mexico made just one alteration from the 3-1 triumph over Croatia; 34-year-old Carlos Salcido coming in for banned holding midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez.
Louis van Gaal's side racked up more passes in the early exchanges but Mexico were showing more attacking intent; lively left wing-back Miguel Layun seeing 2 sighters fly off target and a teasing cross fail to find a team-mate. Hector Herrera was also threatening on the opposite side of the field, firing narrowly wide of the left upright in the best opening of the first 16 minutes before seeing a strong penalty shout turned down.
By the half-hour mark, and the first designated drinks break, the Dutch had already had to make 16 clearances to avert danger (compared to Mexico's 3), while their tackling had been near-non-existent, completing 1/8.
The baking conditions were perhaps suiting the Mexicans more than their European counterparts. Holland made little impression going forward in the opening 45 minutes despite their superior possession. However, they were unfortunate not win a penalty before the break after Arjen Robben was felled.
Robben and Van Persie had quiet halves compared to previous stellar showings at Brazil 2014.
The dynamic duo were lacking the deadly diagonal balls which had such a devastating effect against Spain in game one. Architect Daley Blind had been forced to play in a more central position as early as the 9th minute following the withdrawl of enforcer Nigel de Jong.
Mexico headed in for their half-time oranges happier with their half's work. Oribe Peralta made the most attacking third passes for his side, while Herrara had been a constant menace down the right wing.
After 6 unsuccessful strikes in the first half, Miguel Herrera's men made their first effort of the second period count, and in some style; Giovani dos Santos crashing home from distance.
The opener forced the Dutch to surge forward, and they would have been back on terms had it not been for a fantastic reaction save from Guillermo Ochoa; tipping Stefan de Vrij's strike onto a post.
When the second half drinks break arrived with around 15 minutes remaining, the Netherlands had fired in 8 shots since the break (compared to 1 in the first half) but Ochoa had kept out the 2 that were on target.
But not he nor any other goalkeeper was keeping out Wesley Sneijder's bullet to level proceedings in the 88th minute, from Holland's 10th corner-kick of the contest.
And there was time for a dramatic late twist ensuring there was no need for extra-time. It was a case of 'third time lucky' for Robben and penalty shouts; the referee finally pointing to the spot after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez's challenge. Substitute Klass-Jan Huntelaar stepped up and was ice cool from 12 yards.
They left it late, but the Dutch's response to going behind so early in the second half was creditable, particularly in the testing conditions; firing in 12 efforts after the break compared to 1 before it.
And Robben was key to the turnaround; the eighth comeback victory of this World Cup. The Bayern Munich winger was a constant threat in the second period, winning 4/5 take-ons, creating 4 chances for others and winning the decisive spot-kick.
The Netherlands focused their play down the right channel as they searched for a way back into the game, with Robben the chief tormentor. And no matter how predictable it was, Mexico had no answer to it, winning just 1 out of 9 tackles in that area after half-time.
Facts and figures
- The Netherlands’ first shot on target in the game came in the 57th minute, Guillermo Ochoa dramatically saving a Stefan de Vrij effort from close range.
- Wesley Sneijder has scored 5 goals in his last 5 knockout stage games at World Cup finals.
- The Netherlands have converted all 9 World Cup penalties they have taken (excluding shootouts).
- The Netherlands have now turned their last 4 World Cup games in which they fell behind in regular time (90 mins, not including ET) into a victories.
- 7 different players have scored for the Netherlands at this World Cup, more than any other side in the tournament.
- 4 of last 5 World Cup knockout stage goals conceded by the Netherlands have come from outside the box. (all except Iniesta’s goal in the final).
- Mexico have lost 4 and drawn 1 of their last 5 encounters with the Netherlands, conceding at least 2 goals on each of these occasions.
- Mexico have been knocked out of the World Cup finals at the second round stage in all 6 editions since 1994; no team has been knocked out at this stage as often as this.
- Netherlands have won 10 of their last 11 World Cup matches, with the only blip in this run being their 2010 final defeat against Spain.
- Mexico have scored a goal in each of their last 12 World Cup matches against European nations.
- 11 of the last 13 World Cup goals scored by Mexico have come after half-time, while the Netherlands have scored 10 of their last 11 World Cup goals in the second half.
- Ron Vlaar completed all 37 passes he attempted in this game, no Dutch player has made as many and completed them all in a World Cup game since 1966.
- 4 of the last 5 Dutch goals at this World Cup have been scored by substitutes.