When a heavy footed defender meets a delicate dandelion wisp of an attacker, the referee is going to blow his whistle. And to Mexico's horror, all of this happened in the final moments of its round of 16 match against the Netherlands. The Dutch scored twice in the last six minutes of the game to win 2-1, with the second coming from a penalty awarded when Mexico captain Rafa Marquez stepped on Arjen Robben's foot in the box and Robben reacted as if he was dying in a high school play.
Mexico seemed well on its way to continuing its improbable World Cup run in a match played in conditions similiar to those on the surface of the sun, which required cooling breaks so the players could keep hydrated and try to avoid spontaneous combustion. Gio Dos Santos opened the scoring in the 48th minute with his first international goal in two years after he was denied two goals against Cameroon by poor officiating in the group stage.
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With the Dutch looking like melting traffic cones in their orange kits, Mexico maintained the advantage with more amazing saves from goalkeeper Memo Ochoa. But the Netherlands used the second half's cooling break to make tactical changes and emerged looking the stronger side, finally scored in the 88th minute when Wesley Sneijder blasted a low rocket that nearly burned right through the net.
An inhumane 30 minutes of extra time seemed inevitable at that point for the two exhausted teams, but then Marquez made the poor decision to throw a foot out in front of Robben near the endline. It was a penalty, but, for better or worse, Robben definitely sold it to make sure it didn't go unseen.
Substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar converted the ensuing penalty to put the Netherlands up 2-1 in the fourth minute of injury time and that was the final score.
It was a cruel way for Mexico to go out after such a feel-good run and an incredibly fortunate way for the Netherlands to advance to the quarterfinals. Still, when Mexico eked its way into an inter-confederation qualification playoff against New Zealand off a Graham Zusi goal, no one would have believed that El Tri would go undefeated in a group that included Brazil and then come this close to reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986.
Those final moments sting, but there are a lot of positive takeaways from the 2014 World Cup experience for Mexico. Like giving the world the gift of Miguel Herrera.