Van Gaal magic continues to spearhead Netherlands charge

The Dutch tactician has handled the Oranje side almost perfectly in this World Cup and delivered again by masterminding their comeback victory over Mexico in the last 16
By Teo Teng Kiat | Deputy Editor, Goal Singapore

A Plan B - that was what the Netherlands had if they fell behind against Mexico in their last 16 tie. Dirk Kuyt told Dutch broadcaster NOS after their last-gasp 2-1 victory that the players "knew what we had to do".

That is mostly down to the wily Louis van Gaal, who has masterminded them to four victories out of four games. While the team deserve the plaudits for doing the job on the pitch, the 62-year-old has orchestrated it all with his tactical acumen.

To emerge from a group containing Spain, Chile and Australia with maximum points was an impressive feat. The decision to dispense with the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system for a 5-3-2 in Brazil was met with much criticism back home, but no one was saying anything bad after the glorious 5-1 rout of the defending champions in the opener.

Against the Socceroos, the flexibility to switch back to 4-3-3 was crucial in helping them gain the 3-2 win. Another well-executed plan followed against the South Americans, who had excited with their high-tempo and fluid movement. Van Gaal instead ordered his side to smother the Chileans, before striking twice late on to triumph.

By now, no one should be surprised that the Netherlands had a back-up plan against El Tri. Miguel Herrera's side play in a similar manner to Chile and Van Gaal must have taken note of their effervescent showings in Group A, where they nearly shocked Brazil and easily saw off both Croatia and Cameroon.

The plan was always to contain them first and avoid conceding early as much as possible, especially in the sweltering heat conditions. Kuyt himself has been one of the success stories of Van Gaal's dossier, the forward being deployed at left wing-back against Chile - and continuing against Mexico. Daryl Janmaat was dropped for Paul Verhaeg on the other end to provide more positional awareness, an area he had identified as key in this game.

And the gameplan was working, with Netherlands suffering a few scares but nothing too threatening, before Arjen Robben should have been awarded a penalty as the first half ended. Mexico taking the lead three minutes after the break was arguably down to an enforced change - Nigel de Jong, who would have been closing down the area where Giovani dos Santos got his shot away, had went off injured nine minutes into the match.

Van Gaal responded swiftly. Just eight minutes after conceding, Memphis Depay replaced Verhaeg as the Dutch went 4-2-3-1. The substitute went to the left, with Robben on the other side to exploit the flanks and pin Mexico back, as Kuyt shifted to right-back. When Miguel Herrera brought on an extra midfielder on the hour mark, the Dutch were further handed the initiative. The Dutch spent much more time in the final third after the break. (Controls to toggle at top right)

Indeed, the Mexicans barely had a sniff at goal from then on, with the orange shirts going on to dominate the game and encamp themselves in the opposition half. Van Gaal's tactical success continued when he replaced a tired-looking Robin van Persie with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who came on to play for the first time in this tournament. The Schalke 04 striker went on to set up Wesley Sneijder for the goal, before scoring the winner from the spot.

Huntelaar's inspired display was also tribute to Van Gaal's superb man-management skills. He had left the forward on the bench when goals were needed against Australia and Chile, yet the 30-year-old responded brilliantly when called upon. The decision to take out Van Persie also showed Van Gaal has no qualms about making necessary decision regardless of star status, while his show of faith in Sneijder - who has had a rather quiet tournament - was ultimately vindicated.

Mexico gave a terrific account of themselves and will rightly receive plaudits for their fresh approach, but they ultimately came up short when it mattered. Their tireless pressing left them fatigued late on to face the waves of Dutch attacks and inevitably contributed to two costly lapses of concentration. They can complain about the refereeing decisions going against them, but the truth is that the Netherlands deserved the victory.

Once again when it came to the crunch, Van Gaal worked his magic for the Netherlands. With the Dutch master at the helm, they will be confident of going all the way in this tournament.