By DAN KARELL
Eight months ago, the idea of the Mexican National Team playing in the World Cup Round of 16 was about as likely as Ann Coulter enjoying a soccer game.
But in the present time, that’s the reality El Tri and head coach Miguel Herrera face. El Tri take on the high-flying Netherlands (12 p.m. ESPN) at the Arena Castelao in the heat of Fortaleza, with both teams feeling confident that they can advance to the next round.
Since taking over, Herrera has established a team unity and his players have bought into the patented 5-3-2 system. Maybe most important to the success of Mexico so far has been the play of goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, who practically stood on his head in Mexico’s scoreless draw with Brazil and has been named by many as the goalkeeper of the tournament so far.
El Tri will need Ochoa, midfielder Hector Herrera, and captain Rafa Marquez to be on their game but that’s where the Dutch can strike fear into Mexico’s hearts. A team that’s learned to play together and isn’t displaying any in fighting, the Netherlands have defended very well as a team and are absolutely lethal on the counter attack, with the forward combination of Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie combining for six goals.
Adding in the substitute performances from Leroy Fer, Memphis Depay, and Georginio Wijnaldum, the Mexican defenders will have their hands full today.
Here’s a look at the rest of today’s World Cup slate:
COSTA RICA vs. GREECE
Few expected Costa Rica to make it to the Round of 16, but Los Ticos aren’t complaining.
The Central American nation made it as winners of Group D on merit, defeating Italy and Uruguay before finishing with a draw against England. Los Ticos have used huge performances from Joel Campbell, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Christian Bolaños, and goalkeeper Keilor Navas, they’ll feel confident they can make it into the quarterfinals for the first time in history.
Greece, who only qualified for the Round of 16 after scoring a stoppage time penalty kick, haven’t been as defensively stout as in history but did just enough to make it through. Greece are still lead by the old guard including 34-year-old Thofanis Gekas, 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis, and 35-year-old Kostas Katsouranis, but two younger defenders could play a huge role.
Kostas Manolas and Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos will be charged with keeping tabs on Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz’s late runs into the box from midfield.
What do you think of today’s World Cup slate? Which players do you expect to have a big game for El Tri vs. the Netherlands? Do you expect Robben and Robin to advance Holland to the next round? What do you think of Costa Rica’s chances?
Share your thoughts below.