Runner-up at World Cup 2010, the Netherlands has quickly established itself as one of the sides to watch in Brazil, having emerged spectacularly from a dangerous group, yet in last-16 opponent Mexico it faces a treacherous task.
Not only will the Dutch have to battle tenacious and streetwise foes, they will also have the elements against them in Fortaleza’s Castelao stadium. Temperatures in the shade have regularly topped 30 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day, so their lunchtime kickoff against the North Americans promises to be one of the most draining slots in the whole tournament. Louis van Gaal’s side has equipped itself superbly when tested previously, however. Spain was spectacularly hammered 5-1 in their opening game, while dogged Australia was seen off 3-2 in their second match. And the Oranje’s perfect record was maintained when they dismissed Chile 2-0, ensuring they finished the group stage as the competition’s most prolific side.
Ahead of this test Nigel de Jong, Daley Blind, Arjen Robben and Stefan de Vrij all trained separate from the group with minor knocks, though they are expected to be fit, while Robin van Persie makes his return from suspension. Leroy Fer is definitely missing, however, and there are doubts over Bruno Martins Indi, who is suffering from concussion.
In Mexico it faces a dangerous opponent. Wins over Cameroon and Croatia proved the qualities of Miguel Herrera’s side, which also showed a steely face when it held the hosts to a scoreless draw. That match against Brazil also took place in Fortaleza, so the Mexicans have some idea of what to expect from Estadio Castelao, though with an earlier kickoff, conditions will likely be tougher for a team that has so far played an intense pressing game.
Twice previously the Mexicans have advanced to the quarterfinal stage of the World Cup, though both of these occasions came on home soil, and in each of the last five competitions they have fallen immediately after successfully negotiating the group phase.If this history counts against them, El Tri can draw upon a more encouraging record with regards their recent history against European sides in the competition, they have lost only two of their last 11 fixtures.
While there are no injured players in Mexico’s ranks, a suspension for Jose Juan Vazquez could prompt a change of system that may see Javier Hernandez start for the first time in Brazil, though this is by no means certain.