Late goals from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas Jan Huntelaar broke Mexican hearts as Netherlands battled back from a 48th minute Gio dos Santos opener to win 2-1. This is the sixth consecutive World Cup Mexico have been eliminated in the round of 16.
Last week Dan analyzed how Mexico continued to offer an attacking threat after taking the lead in their final group game against Croatia. As is often the case when a side takes a lead, Mexico conceded some possession to Croatia after the goal and defended slightly deeper but pushed numbers forward on the counter and were a real threat. They were rewarded with two insurance goals and comfortably saw out a 3-1 win.
Their approach today after dos Santos's opener was different. Javier Aquino replaced dos Santos in the 61st minute and slid into the right side of midfield, changing Mexico's shape from 3-5-2 to more of a 5-4-1. The change left Oribe Peralta (and then Javier Hernandez when he replaced Peralta) isolated up front when Mexico won back possession. They had no outlet pass to allow them to counter and quickly gave possession back to the Netherlands, inviting wave after wave of second half pressure. The graphics below illustrate Mexico's inability to offer an attacking threat after taking the lead. Up until dos Santos's goal Mexico produced 7 shots to just 1 for the Netherlands. After the goal Mexico produced just 3 shots to 12 for Netherlands.
Mexico's attacking third passing statistics were similar to the Netherlands before the goal. They completed 38 attacking third passes in the first 48 minutes, Netherlands completed 41. Following the goal Mexico completed only 24 attacking third passes while Netherlands completed 43.
It was a shame Miguel Herrera was so reactive when his side went ahead. They had been the better side throughout the first half, looking comfortable defensively and producing some decent scoring opportunities of their own on the break. They allowed a Dutch side that had been ponderous to attack for long periods of time without having to worry much about being picked off on the break. Louis Van Gaal made an intelligent change in shape from 3-5-2 to more of a 4-2-3-1 in the second half, knowing a third center back was unnecessary while Mexico were playing so deep. Had Herrera stuck with his approach against Croatia and not given the Netherlands so much respect in the second half, Mexico may well have broken their round of 16 losing streak.