For the sixth straight World Cup, Mexico has advanced out of the group stage. Only Germany and Brazil carry a longer streak of advancing. Still, Mexico lags behind those titans in part because in all five previous attempts during this streak, Mexico has been beaten in the round of 16 and it has been beaten by all manner of teams (surprise semifinalist Bulgaria in 1994, world powers Germany in 1998 and Argentina both in 2006 and 2010 and North American neighbor USA in 2002).
TV Coverage: ESPN in English and Univision in Spanish in the United States. In Mexico, Televisa, TV Azteca will have the match on TV and the Cinepolis theater chain will be showing the match on the big screens.
What Mexico Needs to Win: A combination of the good things we’ve seen in all three matches. The Guillermo Ochoa of the Brazil game, the ironclad defense of the Cameroon game and the prolific finishing of the second half of the Croatia game. If Mexico gets all of those in the same game, it has a great chance to win. If only two of those show up, Mexico had better pray Ochoa is in Brazil game form or it will be trouble against a Dutch team that is playing with a ton of confidence right now after breezing through one of the more difficult groups.
Key Player for Mexico: Rafa Marquez. The 35 year old Marquez turned back the clock against Croatia with one of the best games he has played in years both going forward and in defense. He will need to do more of the same against the Netherlands, a team that arguably has more firepower than Brazil and has certainly shown better finishing ability than anyone Mexico has played thus far in the tournament. Marquez will draw at least part of the assignment on star striker Robin Van Persie and will also be tasked at times with slowing down Arjen Robben when he cuts into the box from his wing position. If Marquez, and the rest of the Mexico central defense cannot keep Van Persie and Robben away from their preferred positions, even Ochoa in great form will have nothing to work with.
Key Player for The Netherlands: Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder was arguably the best player in the 2010 World Cup when the Dutch went all the way to the final. Then he disappeared from the top levels of the sport within two years. Now weaker but still capable, Sneijder is tasked with keeping things moving in the central midfield for the Dutch. While Sneijder very rarely scores these days, it is his ball movement that opens the field for both Van Persie and Robben to get loose. As the Dutch defense is still young and relatively untested, it is important to get the attack going early and Sneijder is the biggest key to that beyond letting Robben and Van Persie do their thing.
Tactics: It would not surprise to see Mexico change formation a bit before this game. The 5-3-2 formation worked wonders in the group stage, but the team tired out at the end of the Brazil game. As this game could be similar, Mexico could opt for changes, especially with defensive midfielder Jose Vazquez out with a yellow card suspension. Beyond some unknown, there is also a chance that Super Sub Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez gets the start as the Mexican attack has looked far more dangerous with him on the field in place of either Giovanni Dos Santos or Oribe Peralta.
Surprisingly, the Dutch have also worked mostly out of a 5-3-2 formation, a change from the normal Dutch 4-3-3 that everyone who closely follows Netherlands is familiar with. Still, the Dutch get into the attack more than Mexico does in part because Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder are better than anyone Mexico has on the roster and because Wingback Daley Blind is versatile enough where the Dutch 5-3-2 can become the normal 4-3-3 at any time when attacking.
One big advantage: Dutch striker Robin Van Persie is better than anyone Mexico can lineup as a striker. In fact, Chicharito is Van Persie’s backup at Manchester United. In a knockout game, having a consistent star striker to bank on is a big deal and while the Mexican strikers show promise, they are all inconsistent, especially compared to Van Persie, an elite player as long as he is healthy.
Final Prediction: Mexico will test the young Dutch defense early, especially after viewing the tape of lightly regarded Australia carving that defense up in the second group stage match (Netherlands won 3-2). It will likely get an early goal. And then the Dutch attack will roar to life. While Brazil is a better overall team than Netherlands, its attack is not at the same level. Mexico is going to learn that the hard way as Robben carves up them up from the wing.
No mezcal tonight Mexico… Netherlands 3, Mexico 1