Holland progressed into the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Mexico on Sunday.
There was an element of luck to the victory, but there was also an element of Dutch boss Louis van Gaal changing things around as well.
For a good while it looked like underdogs Mexico were set to upset the apple cart and progress into the quarter-finals.
However, goals from Wesley Sneijder in the 88th minute and a penalty from striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the 94th minute were enough to help the Oranje pull off a remarkable comeback.
Dutch boss Louis van Gaal used the cooling break to change his tactics to good effect, bringing off captain Robin van Persie and replacing him with Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The move raised a few eyebrows amongst fans and media alike.
However, it turned out to be a tactical masterstroke, as Huntelaar got an assist for the first goal for Sneijder and kept his nerve in stoppage-time to score the spot-kick.
Van Gaal was very proud of his tactical changes telling reporters: “I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save.
“Then I moved to plan B and yes, I did that in the cooling break that is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks. Did you see what I did?” he asked the waiting media.
As always Mr Van Gaal was very modest and self-effacing in his praise for himself! He continued to say: “Van Gaal brought on target man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, took Dirk Kuyt out of defence to partner him in attack and had his team pump long balls into the Mexico penalty area.
“It’s a big compliment that my players picked up on it immediately. We have a modest group of players but they have outstanding team spirit and this is ultimately what led to the victory.
“They had faith and believed till the very end. The humidity was not in our favour. We were fresher and fitter than the Mexicans.
“Not only did my players have belief that they could perform today, they also were fit for this match. Yes, it was an escape but in the second half we showed that we could create more opportunities and we played three different systems.”
Of course it is hard to argue with the fact that Van Gaal’s tactical acumen changed the game in his team’s favour, as they went on to win the game, with two very telling contributions from his substitute.
No doubt it was a touch of tactical experience and a touch of luck that got Holland through to the last eight of the competition. However, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good in life and Holland took full advantage of the breaks they were handed.
Holland’s second goal came from a debatable penalty kick. Dutch winger Arjen Robben has been accused of diving in his efforts to win the spot-kick. The Bayern Munich star may have made the most of tackle, but the Mexican defender gave the referee a decision to make, especially so late in the game.
Robben has a reputation for diving, but earlier in the game he was denied what has been described as a ‘double penalty’, so maybe there was justice in the end, despite the Mexican protestations.
Dutch football is associated with silky skills and fancy football work. However what has been impressive about Holland’s displays this summer has been the Oranje’s resilience. In the group stage games against Spain and Australia the Dutch had to comeback from a goal behind.
Both games could have gone either way, but Holland held in there and displayed a resilience not always seen in Holland teams of the past. At previous major tournaments the Dutch camp has been filled with spats and Prima Donna behaviour.
There has been no drama from this squad though, which is maybe a sign of Van Gaal’s regime of discipline and control.
Holland made it to World Cup finals four years ago, only to be beaten by Spain and an extra-time goal from Andres Iniesta. The resilience that Van Gaal’s team has displayed so far suggests that the Oranje could go far this time around.
Holland faces underdogs Costa Rica in the quarter-finals and at odds of 1/ 2 the Dutch are heavy favourites to make the last four of the competition. Costa Rica will provide tough opposition, but at the moment I certainly will be writing off Holland as potential winners, because with the right mixture of luck and talent a team can go a long way.
Did Holland deserve to defeat Mexico at the World Cup?