| Netherlands' coach Louis van Gaal and Robin van Persie during a training session, in Fortaleza, on Saturday |
Fortaleza: Robin van Persie returns to the Dutch attack when they face Mexico in Sunday’s pre-quarter final clash, at the Estadio Castelao, here, while Mexican defender Hector Moreno will lock horns with his former mentor Louis van Gaal.
Van Persie missed The Netherlands’ final match of the group stage but will be back to partner Arjen Robben in what seems to be one of the deadliest attacking pairs in this World Cup. The pair scored three apiece during the group stage as The Netherlands romped to the last 16 with three victories and 10 goals, more than any other team in the competition.
That rich vein of form makes them favourites against the Mexicans, but the previous clashes between the two sides have been remarkably even. In six meetings, the Dutch have won three and the Mexicans two.
Of the 22 goals in those matches — an average of nearly four a game — both sides scored 11, and their only previous meeting at the World Cup, back in 1998, had ended 2-2.
Van Persie’s return means Dirk Kuyt is likely to be relegated to the bench after starting against Chile. Now if he does play, either from the outset or as a substitute, the 33-year-old will win his 100th international cap.
Van Gaal, however, could be forced to switch from the 5-3-2 formation with which he started the tournament, thanks to injuries. Bruno Martins Indi has not featured since suffering a concussion in the match against Australia, whilst Leroy Fer, being one of the scorers against Chile, is ruled out by a hamstring injury.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 20-year-old forward Memphis Depay is also likely to start on the bench despite scoring twice in his two appearances. “I must be realistic,” he said.
“With incredible players like Robben and Van Persie, it’s logical that I sit on the bench. If you see what Robben can do with his dribbling skills, it’s simply unbelievable.”
The Mexicans, on the other hand, are largely injury free and were highly impressive at the group stage. Defender Moreno used to play under Van Gaal at Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and knows a thing or two about the talent in The Netherlands squad.
“They (Dutch players) were young guys like me and just starting their careers when I was there (at Alkmaar),” said Moreno, who now plays for Espanyol. “They’ve grown up under the guidance of Van Gaal. With the players they have up front, it’s going to be a very difficult match.”
Moreno hopes to hug the Dutch coach twice on Sunday — once before kick-off as a gesture of friendship and again after the final whistle to commiserate him in defeat.
Having ended a 11-game international goal drought, Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez, too, is aiming to oust his new club boss when the two teams lock horns. Known as ‘Chicharito’ (Little Pea), Hernandez was left in tears after heading his team’s third goal in a 3-1 win over Croatia that sealed Mexico’s place in the knockout stage for a sixth straight World Cup.
Hernandez’s return to scoring form is certainly another boost for the Mexican side that has gone from strength to strength since the appointment of Miguel Herrera as coach last year. “We have to stay very calm, very humble and not get carried away,” said Hernandez.
“This is just one more step forward, a very important one, but just one more step. If we want to make history, we have to beat The Netherlands and keep moving along the path we’ve set out for ourselves.”