FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — The World Cup’s highest-scoring team is about to meet arguably the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
If the free-scoring Netherlands wants to progress to the quarterfinals in Brazil, it will have to do what only one man has done so far — beat Guillermo Ochoa.
The Mexico keeper has conceded just one goal, a late consolation strike by Croatia’s Ivan Perisic in Mexico’s 3-1 win.
The 28-year-old Ochoa kept out Samuel Eto’o as Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 and then had one of the performances of the tournament the last time he appeared in Fortaleza, denying Neymar twice with spectacular saves and Thiago Silva late in the 0-0 draw with Brazil.
When the Brazil match ended, Mexico’s players lined up to hug their man-of-the-match keeper.
“We respect (the Netherlands) as we do with all of the other teams, but we know that they are among the favorites to win the Cup and that does not scare us, it motivates us,” Ochoa said. “If we can beat them we will go very far.”
Striker-turned-defender Dirk Kuyt is confident the Dutch, who have scored 10 times in three group matches including hammering in a stunning five against defending champion Spain, can find a way past Ochoa, too, on Sunday in Fortaleza’s Arena Castelao.
“We know our strengths in the team,” said Kuyt. He mentioned speedy winger Arjen Robben, “but also we’ve got Robin van Persie. In my opinion, Wesley Sneijder is one of the best players in the world. So we want to use those strengths.”
Mexico is in the round of 16 for the sixth straight time — only Brazil and Germany have a longer streak of progressing from the group stage — but the team’s tournament has ended at the round of 16 each time.
The current Mexico team wants to go not just one better, but all the way.
“We talk about not only beating Holland, we aspire to beat every great team and play not just a fifth match, we want to win it all,” said defender, Miguel Layun. “They are a great team that played for the title four years ago, and are candidates here, but if we win this one, our confidence will go through the roof.”
The winner Sunday goes on to play either Costa Rica or Greece in the quarterfinals in Salvador.
Kuyt said that a measure of Mexico’s quality at the World Cup is the fact that Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez isn’t even starting, having been relegated to a substitute’s role after a year-long international goal drought that he finally broke against Croatia.
“I’m very surprised by Hernandez who is not playing in the team because in my opinion he is a great player,” Kuyt said. “So that means Mexico has a very, very good team if he is on the bench.”
The Netherlands has its own super sub in the form of Memphis Depay, who has scored two goals in Brazil in just over an hour of play. Another scoring substitute, Leroy Fer, is out with a strained hamstring and it is not yet clear if defender Bruno Martins Indi has recovered enough from a concussion he sustained against Australia in the Netherlands’ second group victory, over Australia.
Mexico Midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez is suspended and will likely be replaced by Carlos Salcido, a former PSV Einhoven player.
“We have players on the bench who can break open and decide a match,” said Depay, the 20-year-old PSV Eindhoven striker whose first international goal was the winner against Australia in Porto Alegre and who doubled his tally in injury time of the Netherlands’ 2-0 win against Chile.
“Holland will be complicated, no one said that it*s going to be easy,” said defender Hector Moreno. “We are working very hard to achieve something that everybody thinks is impossible.”
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