Dutch courage overshadowed by Robben dive

COMMENT: The Bayern Munich winger’s theatrical move in the dying moments prompted the referee to award the crucial spot-kick that sent the Netherlands through, leaving Mexico irate

By Robin Bairner in Fortaleza

When Robin van Persie trudged off, seemingly frazzled in the Fortaleza heat, to be replaced by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar it seemed that this would be the enduring image of the Netherlands’ 2014 World Cup exit, as they trailed 1-0 to Mexico with only 15 minutes remaining.

But Arjen Robben inspired Louis van Gaal’s side to react, though the manner from which Huntelaar’s decisive penalty was won by the Bayern Munich winger was controversial in the extreme.

Having watched Robben throw himself to the ground during Netherlands’ rare attacks in the first half, referee Pedro Proenca elected to award a stoppage-time penalty to the Dutch as the attacker theatrically collapsed to the deck under a challenge from Rafael Marquez.

Watching the incident on the big screen after the match, the remaining Mexico fans booed the act, and while it is likely some contact was made by the former Barcelona centre-back to the Dutchman’s boot, there can be little doubt that it did not merit the swan dive that it was subsequently met with.

It was an incident that soured an otherwise fine Dutch comeback.

Although they reached half-time scoreless and having edged possession, it had been the North Americans who had enjoyed by far the better moments, attacking dynamically down the left through Miguel Laylun and in the centre via Hector Herrera.

The rather peripheral figure of Giovani dos Santos gave them the initiative early in the second half with a searing shot, and as Van Persie faltered offensively and Guillermo Ochoa once again excelled, it appeared that this might be the match’s decisive act.

But Van Gaal gambled, withdrawing the ineffective Manchester United striker and replacing him with arch-poacher Huntelaar.

With two minutes of normal time remaining, Oranje still trailed, though when Mexico failed to adequately defend a corner kick it was the Schalke striker’s head down from which Wesley Sneijder pounced emphatically.

It was, however, primarily Robben who inspired the Dutch recovery. He would make several impressive surges down the flank throughout the match and had invited problems in the Mexico rearguard – perhaps the only member of his side to do so.

When invited to make one last burst down the right, Robben provided the game’s telling image. His initial spurt left the Mexican rearguard standing but as he checked back to beat Marquez, his flailing arms were enough to convince the Portuguese referee of the validity of his claim.

It was an act of malevolent quick-wittedness sufficient to conquer the furnace of Fortaleza’s Estadio Castelao and account finally for the impressive Mexican challenge.

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Robben: Conditions will suit 'fearless' Mexico

The Netherlands forward believes that his side’s last-16 opponents will have a definite advantage by playing in Brazil, but is confident following the Oranje’s displays so far

Arjen Robben believes that Netherlands will need to be wary of Mexico, particularly as their opponents will be suited to the conditions in Fortaleza.

The Oranje have impressed so far after progressing as Group B winners with victory in all three games, including a shock 5-1 dismantling of Spain in their opening encounter.

However, Robben, who has scored three times in Brazil so far, insists that the Dutch should not dwell on their successes to date when they come up against Miguel Herrera’s men on Sunday.

“They are dangerous opponents,” the Bayern Munich attacker told the Times of India.

“Especially when the match is being played in Brazil, a country more familiar to them. They are fearless opponents and proved it against Brazil in their group league match [a 0-0 draw].

“It’s really been an unbelievable start for us. Before the World Cup, if you had said to me that we shall win all the three matches of the group, I would have not have believed you! But that’s football and we did almost everything right to qualify for the round of 16.”

Robben, who missed a golden opportunity when one-on-one with Iker Casillas in the final of the 2010 World Cup which the Dutch lost 1-0 to Spain, also stressed that he was pleased to have gone some way to making amends in this edition of the tournament.

“This was a new beginning,” he said of the 5-1 win over la Roja on June 13.

“We were not playing them in the final of the tournament, rather it was our first match. And we were behind them.

“Then we played a second half that was almost like a dream performance. As if, we could do whatever we wanted to. That was the most pleasing part of that performance.

“It was satisfying. My goal gave us the lead and we were unstoppable after that, scoring goals at will almost. Scoring five goals against the world champions is something we shall never be able to forget.”

Robben: I knew I wasn't as fast as Usain Bolt!

The Bayern Munich ace was reported to have been clocked doing 37km/h against Spain, before his official speed came in below that figure

Arjen Robben says he always suspected his ‘new’ sprint speed world record for a footballer was not legitimate.

The winger was reported to have clocked 37 kilometres per hour as he burned Sergio Ramos for pace during Netherlands’ World Cup clash with Spain in Salvador on June 13.

However, Robben’s speed has now been amended to 31km/h – and the Dutchman is not in the least bit surprised, joking that he never felt like he was in the same category as 100 metres world record holder Usain Bolt.

“I’d already thought [37km/h] was excessive,” he told Algemeen Dagblad. “I am fast, but that would have made me almost as fast as Usain Bolt!”

Robben did admit, though, that he is blessed with a blistering turn of pace that enables him to move up a gear even while in full flight.

“Even during a spring, I can occasionally still accelerate,” he explained. “I am so fit that I can accelerate during a acceleration; like making a new start.

“It’s a great feeling when that works out. I have a sense of power.”

Meanwhile, Robben says that he and his Netherlands colleagues are in a confident and relaxed frame of mind ahead of their last-16 clash with Mexico, something he puts down to coach Louis van Gaal.

“The atmosphere in the group is very good,” the Bayern Munich star enthused. “Of course, the results help, but it’s also the composition, the mix – it’s right.

“And I think it’s great that it works out what I earlier said, that with Van Gaal we have the ideal coach for this group.

“Van Gaal prepares the young guys perfectly already since the start of this campaign.”

Given Netherlands would play the winner of Costa Rica-Greece should they progress the quarter-finals, there are those that believe that the Dutch have a clear run to the last four.

However, Robben does not see it like that at all.

“We can win [against Mexico] for sure, but I don’t see a favourite,” he argued. “We must stay calm now.

“Because the trap is clear: according to a lot of people we’re already in the semi-finals. But it’s not like that.”

'Muller is in unbelievably good shape' – Low

The Germany forward is joint-top of the Golden Boot standings once again and his head coach believes he is blessed with a natural instinct in attack

Joachim Low expressed his delight with Thomas Muller’s goalscoring displays and hopes he continues when Germany face Algeria.

The 24-year-old attacker has already struck four times in Brazil, sitting alongside Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi atop the Golden Boot standings.

Low revealed how impressed he has been with Muller, who claimed the top-scorer prize in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and believes the Algerian back four will struggle to contain him in their last-16 clash.

“Back in the pre-tournament phase it was clear he was in unbelievably good physical and mental shape,” the 54-year-old German told a press conference.

“All our opponents find him hard to handle because his runs are very clever and he keeps popping up in the box.

“He’s been in great form for weeks now, and with him I have the feeling the moves and runs come easily to him.”

Germany and Algeria face each other in the second round in Porto Alegre on Monday.

Martino: I was worn out from pressure to live up to Guardiola

The 51-year-old left his post as Barcelona coach last year after a disappointing season and has claimed he grew tired of trying to repeat the success of the now-Bayern Munich boss

Former Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has revealed that he was worn out from the pressure to succeed at the Liga club.

Martino took over from Tito Vilanova at the start of the 2013-14 season, but departed his post at the end of the campaign having only managed to win the Supercopa.

It was in stark contrast to Barcelona’s 14-trophy haul under Pep Guardiola, and the 51-year-old argued that he could only take being held to such standards for so long.

“Pep’s Barcelona was the best team in all history. That comparison was never positive,” he said to Marca.

“At Barcelona, winning wasn’t enough. If you won, it was thanks to the players and if you lost, it was my fault. It was hard to continue.

“When the players back their coach in public it’s nice at the time but you soon grow weary.”

Martino also had a spell coaching in Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys, where he won the 2013 Clausura.