A view from Oranje’s opposition: Mexico

Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team have exceeded expectation in the World Cup, finishing top of their group with three wins and 10 goals.

The Oranje may have avoided tournament hosts and one of the favourites Brazil in the second round, but that doesn’t mean they have an easy tie in the last-16.

Van Gaal’s men are faced with an extremely difficult test, as they come up against Miguel Herrera’s Mexico, who finished second in Group A with two wins and a draw through their stalemate with the Selecao.

We spoke to Mexico football expert Cesar Hernandez to find out more about El Tri.

Mexico could well be the surprise of the tournament, given their terrible run in the qualifiers. With Miguel Herrera coming in, what has changed that has turn El Tri into a success all of a sudden?

Herrera’s positive influence can all be perfectly symbolised through his celebrations on the pitch. The affable coach is widely liked in the squad and has been described as a “character” by many players. The man takes “selfies” with the team and even took part in the below music video, which is actually the official song for Mexico in the World Cup. Essentially, Herrera has come in as a much-needed injection of energy and motivation when Mexico needed it most.

Tactically, Herrera has changed Mexico from a static 4-4-2 to a more attack-friendly 3-5-2. Many, including myself, were a bit worried that the back three would leave giant holes in the defence but Mexico has done very well in the back, so far. The Netherlands have the ability to highlight some of our cracks and faults defensively.

So far, Mexico have impressed with pressing and energetic football. In a knock-out game, is it likely that Mexico will adjust their tactics a bit?

It seems unlikely. Miguel Herrera has dabbled with a couple of different formations and tactics in the past, but his selection of players seem all best suited to the attacking 3-5-2. Jose Juan Vazquez’s absence in defensive mid (due to the two yellows in the group stage) will likely bring on 34-year-old veteran Carlos Salcido as a substitute. Salcido is much more defensive-minded than Vazquez which means that El Tri might be slightly more conservative in the middle, but I doubt it would be a serious impact on the attack.

If Miguel Herrera decides to move Hector Herrera, Carlos Peña, or Andres Guardado in Vazquez’s position, expect Mexico to be just as energetic and pressing. Perhaps even more so.

Giovani dos Santos was once labelled a new Messi and took quite some time to flourish, but has looked very good at this tournament. What role will Herrera give him against the Netherlands and what would be the way to get the best out of him?

Giovani dos Santos is the most awkward piece of the puzzle that makes up Mexico. After Carlos Vela in Real Sociedad, Giovani is arguably Mexico’s second-best player in Europe at the moment.

What’s the difficult about Giovani is that he works best as a free-roaming second striker for Mexico. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Villarreal in La Liga, they give him plenty of space to run around with the ball and that is how he flourishes the most. What is unfortunate about Gio is that if he is placed in another spot, or restricted in his movement, his game becomes significantly less threatening in the attack.

Herrera’s system seems to work best with two out-and-out strikers, but Gio has so far thrived with his style of play. That being said, an argument can be made for Chicharito to get more time after he was able to help create two of Mexico’s three goals against Croatia.

With the Netherlands carrying an attack containing Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, there is quite some intelligence and pace in the forward line of the Dutch. Is that a bit of a worry from a Mexican perspective?

Good lord, yes. Although Mexico only let in one goal during the group stage, most of the credit should be given to goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Rafael Marquez and Francisco Rodriguez both lack plenty of pace and will likely not keep up with any of the Dutch attack. Mexico’s best defender, Hector Moreno, has slowly grown into the tournament but will need to be at his very best on Sunday.

Given the lack of preparation, Mexico’s defense has done well but the Netherlands are more than capable of tearing apart our defense which means that Ochoa will need to have another outstanding game.

What is the general expectation of the Mexicans? Has the tournament been a success already or are they still craving for more? What is their view on the tie against the Netherlands?

Considering 2013, many fans and critics have been very surprised with Mexico’s performance so far. One month ago, many would have never believed that Mexico would walk away with seven points in the group stage.

Yet, now that this hurdle has been crossed, the old demons of Mexico’s “curse” emerges. Mexico have been knocked out of the round of 16 for five straight World Cups. El Tri’s highest finish ever has been in the quarterfinals twice, in 1970 and 1986. If Mexico can find a way to beat the Dutch, the opponents would be either Greece or Costa Rica. Fans are salivating at the idea of playing that beatable match and doing what has never been done before in the World Cup for Mexico, making it into the semifinals.

For many, the Netherlands are the last team they would want to play, but plenty love to bring up the 2-2 tie from 1998. There is a mentality in Mexico that the squad always plays at the same level of their opponents. Perhaps it has much to do with the recent success against Brazil in the last ten years, but fans tend to be overtly optimistic, no matter the opposition.

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