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50-50 Challenge: Netherlands vs. Mexico

Netherlands have a 100 percent record from the group stages and have gone from tournament outsiders to one of the favourites, while Mexico qualified behind hosts Brazil to reach the round of 16. Our ESPNFC bloggers Elko Born (Netherlands) and Andrea Canales (Mexico) preview the tie.

Form and fitness

Elko Born: Netherlands have done unexpectedly well during this World Cup, crushing Spain and brushing Australia and Chile aside.

Much of their success can be attributed to Louis van Gaal, who seems to be thriving under the spotlight he's been under since Manchester United announced his appointment as their new manager shortly before the World Cup. Constantly tinkering with his newfound 5-3-2 formation, for example by utilising Dirk Kuyt -- of all people -- as a left wing-back, the Dutch boss seems capable of finding the perfect balance between attacking prowess and defensive solidity, despite the relative inexperience of Oranje's back line.

Andrea Canales: Mexico's form has been excellent throughout the tournament. They overcame the bad luck of poor offside calls to beat Cameroon before they stymied Brazil with a goalless draw. Their best game has been their most recent one, as key players such as Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez unlocked their scoring potential against Croatia for their biggest win.

Yes, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa did finally concede a single goal to Croatia but otherwise, his stellar play has helped Mexico immensely. Coach Miguel Herrera has preferred to start the same players every game and that has led to Jose Juan Vazquez, the tough and active defensive midfielder, missing out through suspension. Carlos "Gullit" Pena is the player expected to take his place. He is talented, as well, but at times can lose focus.

- Cox: What we learned in the group stage

World Cup history

EB:  Netherlands drew 2-2 the last time these two faced each other in the World Cup. It happened in France in 1998, when the nations competed in the final match of the group stage. Mexico managed to grab a draw having come from two down, but Netherlands managed to top the group, staying ahead of Mexico on goal difference.

AC: As Elko says, the last World Cup meeting between the pair was in 1998 when Luis Hernandez grabbed a late equaliser for El Tri having been 2-0 down. Elsewhere, the most recent friendlies between the two have both resulted in 2-1 wins for Netherlands.

There isn't any particular animosity between the squads. Mexico has always respected the Dutch and their soccer legacy. That's part of the reason that Pena is nicknamed after Ruud Gullit, the great Dutch player of the past. Certain Mexican players, such as Carlos Salcido, have also played in the Eredivisie as well.

Key battle

EB: Hopefully for Netherlands, Manchester United's Hernandez will not make an appearance -- or at least start on the bench like he did during Mexico's group matches. After a difficult year at his club, the striker will relish the chance to impress Van Gaal, whom he'll have to work with next year in England. Is there a better way to impress your new boss than by knocking him out of the World Cup?

AC: Robin van Persie versus Ochoa. The shot-stopper was able to handle everything Brazil threw at him, but van Persie is a striker of the highest order. He has hit the World Cup in top form and already has scored one of the most remarkable goals of the tournament. Ochoa will no doubt have heard all about the danger posed by van Persie from Hernandez, his Manchester United teammate.

However, after such a thrilling start to the tournament, it's likely the Dutch team might suffer a let down and lose focus or get frustrated in a game they don't expect to be difficult. Nothing can frustrate a team into making mistakes more than a particularly tough goalkeeper. Ochoa has days in which he is almost unbeatable, and if he manages to stifle van Persie and the rest of the squad, El Tri can do damage on the counter attack and eliminate Netherlands.

Why does your side deserve to progress?

EB: Netherlands have surprised friends and foes by exceeding expectations by a marathon distance. A lot of this accomplishment can be attributed to Van Gaal's ability to force the Dutch to step over their own shadow. For the first time in history, Oranje now fully prioritise getting a result over the attractiveness of their style.

Normally, this would be disappointing, but beautiful goals from the likes of van Persie and Arjen Robben have lit up the tournament. We saw the first signs in 2010, but now they are strong at it. The Dutch are winning games by combining effectiveness and beauty.

AC: It's unlikely that any team at the World Cup is having more fun than Mexico. While other sides deal with outsized egos of certain players or even coaches, El Tri seem to embody the "all for one and one for all" mentality. Perhaps having nearly missed the tournament makes them especially grateful for the opportunity to be in Brazil. No coach is more ebullient than Herrera. No fan base is more dedicated than Mexico's.

No one thinks the game over Netherlands will be easy, but when Mexico's talent and dedication mesh well, the squad can play well against any country. The Dutch are in peril if they take El Tri lightly.

Prediction

EB: Netherlands will test Mexico's ability by letting them keep hold of the ball for a while, but, eventually, Robben and van Persie will strike. The Dutch will win 2-0.

AC: Drama. 1-1 after extra-time and Mexico to win on penalties.

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