Both of Sunday’s games ended in dramatic fashion, with CONCACAF taking center stage. For Mexico, it was a late surge by the Netherlands that eliminated the Mexicans 2-1, while Costa Rica advanced to the World Cup semifinals when they beat Greece on penalty kicks.
Mexico held a 1-0 lead until the 88th minute of Sunday’s Round of 16 match against the Netherlands, before goals from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas Jan Huntelaar ended El Tri’s World Cup in the cruelest of fashions.
Giovani Dos Santos had given Mexico the lead in the 48th minute with a wonderful goal after he controlled well, and blasted from long range.
Mexico had dominated the first half, but El Tri had gotten away with a clear foul on Robben in the dying moments of the first half, when Arjen Robben was tripped in the box.
Robben was at times, the Netherlands lone attacking option, as his teammates stood and watched the tricky Bayern Munich winger dance around the Mexican defense.
Time and again Robben ran at the Mexican defense, almost always cutting in to his left. The Mexican defenders converged, just about keeping Robben in check.
Mexico retreated deeper and deeper as the game continued, looking to play out the clock on a brutally hot day at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil.
It was not surprising that the Netherlands breakthrough came from a corner kick, Mexico has continuily struggled with defending set pieces in this World Cup.
Robben’s high corner was headed back toward the top of the 18 yard box by Huntelaar who had replaced the ineffective Robin Van Persie in the 76th minute, where Sneijder pounced. Sneijder had been quiet all day, but he took this one chance and blasted his shot past a helpless Meme Ochoa in the Mexican net.
Ochoa had been called on to make a couple of big saves for Mexico, continuing a stellar World Cup for the keeper, highlighted by his Man of the Match performance against Brazil.
But Ochoa could do nothing with Sneijder’s shot, and minutes later the keeper was similarly helpless to stop Huntelaar’s penalty kick.
Mexico were unhappy with the referee’s call, but replays showed that although Robben’s fall was typically dramatic, there was no doubt that Mexican captain Rafael Marquez stepped on Robben’s foot.
Huntelaar confidently put his penalty kick away and Mexico were done. This will be a tough loss for Mexico to swallow, victory was within their grasp, but they fell once again in the Round of 16.
And so the Netherlands, the 2010 World Cup runners up move on instead to face Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. The Oranje weren’t great today, but they got the job done, and isn’t that what knockout play is all about.
Costa Rica continue to be the Cinderella of Brazil 2014, and today it looked as if the clock was just about to strike midnight.
After a nervous first half that saw both teams booed off of the pitch for their uninspired play, the game picked up when Costa Rica broke the deadlock with a fine goal from Bryan Ruiz.
The match immediately perked up, and then the match took another turn when Costa Rica went a man down after Oscar Duarte picked up a second yellow card in the 66th minute. Greece were a man up now, and they pressed their advantage by dominating possession.
But true to form the Greeks had a lot of trouble when it came to actually putting the ball in the net. Partly because of a lack of scoring prowess, and partly because of Costa Rica’s top flight keeper Keylor Navas.
But Greece kept working, and the goal did come. They had to wait until the 91st minute, but Greece scratched out the equalizer. Center back Sokratis Papastathopoulos followed up a rebound from a Theo Gekas shot, and Costa Rica looked set to follow CONCACAF rivals Mexico out of the World Cup.
Costa Rica looked increasingly spent as the game went on, and it seemed as if Greece had to win this game in extra time. But Costa Rica held on, and made it to penalty kicks. Costa Rica went first and scored. They set a pattern as the first seven players hit the target.
Then Navas saved the day, getting his left hand to a decent strike from Kostas Mitroglou and Costa Rica had the opening they needed.
Michael Umana stepped up with the game on the line and fired Costa Rica into the World Cup quarterfinals against the Netherlands on July 5th.