(SportsNetwork.com) - The World Cup upheld its reputation for offering the most dramatic of entertainment on Sunday as the Netherlands advanced to the quarterfinals with a last-gasp win over Mexico.
Mexico led the match for the better part of the second half after Giovani Dos Santos had given El Tri the lead in the 48th minute, but the Dutch responded with two late strikes as Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar netted a goal apiece in the dying stages to overturn the deficit and progress to the next round.
On the surface, it appears as though Mexico was simply the victim of a sublime strike from Sneijder and some late theatrics from Arjen Robben, who was awarded the stoppage-time penalty that Huntelaar converted for the winner.
But paying closer attention to some of the preceding events, particularly the coaching decisions of both managers, reveals precisely why the Netherlands was able to stage such a late comeback.
Mexico bossed much of the contest, a large testament to the gusto that coach Miguel Herrera had instilled in the team when he first took over in 2013.
El Tri pestered the Dutch all over the pitch, making it difficult for Louis van Gaal's men to create much in the way of scoring opportunities.
In attack, Mexico's feverish movement caused a few problems for the Dutch defense, which was often drawn out of position on several occasions in order to account for players moving off the ball.
Mexico got its just reward less than three minutes into the second half when Dos Santos exploited some space in front of the Dutch center-backs to unleash a shot from distance that skipped past goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
The goal alleviated some of the pressure on El Tri, but the Mexicans were second-best for the remainder of the match, chiefly because of Herrera's inapt substitution strategy.
With a one-goal lead in a one-off game, the Dutch were certain to push numbers forward in search of an equalizer, putting Herrera at a crossroads.
The first option for the Mexico boss was to relieve the energetic but tired Dos Santos with a like-for-like replacement, a tactic that would have encouraged counterattacking play to help El Tri ease some of the stress on the defensive unit while forcing the Dutch outside-backs to track back.
The other option was to take a striker off and insert a central midfielder to provide reinforcements in a defensive set-up.
Herrera went with the latter, putting Javier Aquino on for Dos Santos with 30 minutes left to play. It was a decision that had an adverse effect on Mexico as it invited pressure from the Netherlands attack, a circumstance that the Dutch capitalized upon with such a healthy amount of time on their side.
With the Dutch enjoying more of the ball in the wake of Mexico's goal, Van Gaal was left to make a few key decisions of his own.
Already short on one substitution due to an early injury to Nigel de Jong, Van Gaal managed to make the most of his two swaps, both of which appeared to be calculated gambles.
Memphis Depay was inserted into the match for Paul Verhaegh in the 56th minute, a logical substitution given that the Netherlands was in need of a goal, but it was somewhat puzzling for such an attack-minded switch to come with so much time left in the affair.
But the real eyebrow-raiser came in the 76th minute when Van Gaal showed his gall by taking off star striker Robin van Persie, who entered the match with three goals in just two World Cup games, for Huntelaar, who had yet to feature in a World Cup contest in Brazil.
It paid off, though. Huntelaar's presence in the center of the pitch helped occupy the Mexican defenders, freeing up a bit more space on the flanks for Depay and Robben.
Also, Huntelaar's aerial ability is superior to Van Persie's, a nuance that was not lost on Van Gaal.
Both of those strengths manifested themselves in goals for the Dutch as Huntelaar got on the end of a corner in the 88th minute to nod the delivery back to Sneijder to slam home the equalizer.
Robben then created the winner by exploiting space on the right side of the pitch to get to the end line. The Bayern Munich man cut the ball inside onto his favorite left foot and went down under slight contact from Rafa Marquez to earn a penalty, which Huntelaar converted with great assuredness.
That's how it ended for Mexico, which was lucky to even qualify for the tournament at all. The team was in turmoil and cycled through four coaches in the span of a month, ultimately settling on Herrera.
It proved to be the right decision as Herrera helped unite and rejuvenate a team that was as dull and uninspired as it had ever been in recent memory.
But while Herrera deserves a host of credit for getting Mexico to the knockout round of the World Cup, his tactical shortcomings were responsible for the nation's heartbreaking exit.