FORTALEZA: Robin van Persie returns to the Dutch attack to face Mexico in the second round of the World Cup today while Mexican defender Hector Moreno will lock horns with his former mentor Louis van Gaal.
Van Persie was suspended for the Netherlands’ 2-0 defeat of Chile in their final group match but will be back to partner Arjen Robben in the tournament’s deadliest attacking duo.
The pair scored three each during the group stage as the Dutch romped into the last 16 with three victories and 10 goals, more than any other team at the World Cup.
That rich vein of form makes them favourites against the Mexicans but their previous clashes have been remarkably even.
In six meetings, the Dutch have won three and the Mexicans two. Of the 22 goals in those matches - an average of nearly four a game - both sides scored 11, and their only previous meeting at the World Cup, in 1998, ended in a 2-2 draw.
Van Persie’s return means Dirk Kuyt is likely to be relegated to the bench after starting against Chile, but if he does play, either from the outset or as a substitute, the 33-year-old will win his 100th international cap. Meanwhile, Mexico is eye a quarter-final berth with Dutch scalp. They have already come through a tough group against World Cup favourites Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon.
Much of the turnaround is thanks to Miguel Herrera.
The 46-year-old coach became Mexico’s fourth boss of the qualifying campaign when he took over for the two-match playoff against New Zealand.
His controversial decision to use only home-based players was emphatically rewarded with a 9-3 aggregate win.
Since then Herrera has blended in Mexico’s stars from foreign leagues such as Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernandez and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who shone as he kept Neymar and company at bay in a 0-0 draw with Brazil in Fortaleza.
The squad in Brazil also contains 10 of the under-23 side that won the 2012 London Olympics gold beating a Brazil side containing Neymar and Hulk in the final. Rafael Marquez provides the experience as he set a record by captaining his country at a fourth World Cup. So impressive has Herrera’s leadership of the team been that the Mexican football federation wants to extend his contract until the 2018 World Cup.
“I am delighted that people now talk about how he is as a person, but also his work,” Marquez said of Herrera.
“For me it would be great if he continued, but right now we need to stay focused, ” added the former Barcelona defender.
Mexico have conceded just one goal in three games in Brazil, but Marquez is aware of the challenge posed by the Dutch who have scored more than anyone else with 10 goals. “It will be very difficult, but we have not sat back and tried to keep the score at 0-0 against any team we have faced so far.”
Yet, in a World Cup dominated by the Americas at the expense of European powers, Mexico may never have a better chance to go to the last eight and beyond.
The elimination of world champions Spain, England and Italy has opened up the draw massively for Mexico. If they beat the Netherlands, it will be the first time they reach the World Cup quarter-finals on foreign soil. AGENCIES