World Cup Match #51, Round of 16, Group B Winner vs Group A Runner-up: Netherlands vs Mexico
Date and Time: Sunday, June 29th, 12EST/9PST, ESPN, Univision, and WatchESPN
Location: Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
Two soccer-obssessed nations with disparate pasts meet in Sunday’s marquee matchup. The Netherlands is a small country that consistently overachieves with players who often play abroad to seek their fame. Mexico is a massive country that consistently underachieves with players who often stay at home to bask in their fame.
Both are World Cup regulars. Mexico has qualified for every World Cup since 1994, reaching the Round of 16 each time. Holland only missed out in 2002 during that span while finishing 4th in ’98 and losing in extra time in 2010’s Cup Final.
Both teams shined in the group stage. Holland slaughtered Spain, before sweating out a win over Australia then breezing by Chile even without Robin Van Persie. Mexico sandwiched convincing wins over Cameroon and Croatia with a dramatic draw against Brazil.
Look for Holland gaffer Louis Van Gaal to stick with the 5-3-2 formation that brought them here. In this formation, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel De Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum cluster themselves very tightly around the center circle while Dirk Kuyt and Daryl Janmaat play very wide as part of the back five.
But Holland is being led by the blind – Daley Blind. It was Blind’s beautiful 50-yard bomb that picked out RVP for his fabulous flying golaso. Blind leads Holland in assists with three. He rarely misses with his passes while doing the hard work on defence as his 5.3 tacklers per game average leads the team. Keep your eye on Blind to lead Holland from the back.
While Oribe Peralta has emerged as a goal-scoring force for El Tri, their defence has been harder than a three-day old concha. Their keeper Guillermo Ochoa blocked Brazil’s bombardment all match long. The team clears effectively and tackles efficiently by getting whistled for relatively few fouls. 35-year old captain Rafa Marquez is the stout Corazon of the D and even opened the scoring in their crucial Croatia match.
Odds: Holland are 11/10 favorites to win, Mexico is at 11/4, a draw after 90 minutes is at 12/5, Holland is favored to advance at 8/15 while Mexico is at 6/4.