The Group stage is over. The time of theory, of hope, of counting points, of goal differences, is over. Th knockout stages have begun. There is nothing to count, to theorize over, to rationalize. There are just two options: Win, or go home. On Saturday, Brazil won, and Chile went home. They did so with hearts broken, the width of the goal post away from advancing, but that doesn't matter. All that matters is that Brazil moved on, and Chile went home. Colombia moved on, and Uruguay went home. On Sunday, four more sides met. Two would move on, two would go home.
Mexico barely qualified for the World Cup. It was mild surprise that they got out of their group. Yet there they were, battering the goal of heavily favored Holland early in the first half. Holland were finalists in 2010, and boast a litany of big names, but they posed little threat to El Tri in the first half. They had one real chance, when Arjen Robben got on the ball in the box, flummoxing two defenders. Replays showed that one defender kicked him in the heal and the other took his leg out. Neither had any intention of going for the ball. Replays showed it was a clear penalty, but nothing was given.
Giovanni Dos Santos is thought of as something like a failure in many corners of European football. He had little success at Barcelona, and no success at Tottenham, but he has always played well for Mexico. In the 48th minute of this match, he became a national hero. The finish was spectacular. 20 yards out, two men right in his face, almost no chance of a shot coming in. He went back across goal, beat his marker, beat the keeper, and (possibly) put his team into the quarterfinals.
As Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa continued to make spectacular saves, it looked more and more like Mexico would finally advance beyond the final 16 for the first time since they hosted the tournament in 1986.
But alas, it was not to be so. Mexico have looked shaky defender corners all month long. The Dutch got their tenth corner of the day in the 88th minute. For some unknown reason, the Mexicans chose this time to fall asleep. Th ball bounced around a bit in the box before falling to an unmarked Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder never reached the heights it looked like he would 4 years ago, but he is still a top class player. He ran onto a ball in the box with no defender anywhere near him. There was only one possible result. 1-1.
There was an astounding six minutes of added time. After four of them had passed, Robben once again found himself in the box. Once again, his heal was clipped, this time by Rafael Marquez. Robben threw himself to the ground, and the referee pointed to the spot. This is being presented as controversial at the moment. There will be all sorts of discussion. Here's the thing though; Robben was fouled in the box. He was fouled blatantly. Both times. Did he embellish? Certainly. Should he have been given a yellow card for simulation? Perhaps. But diving and getting fouled are not mutually exclusive. Arjen Robben was fouled. He then dove to draw attention to the foul. That is what actually happened on the pitch.
Penalty kick awarded, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar calmly stepped to the spot and put the kick away, giving the Dutch a 2-1 lead with little time left. Two minutes later the whistle blew, and it was all over. The Netherlands are in the quarterfinals. Mexico is going home.