After Russia disappointingly exited at the World Cup group stage, there was unsurprisingly more than a few comments made about the merits of the annual salary of their coach, Fabio Capello which, at over $11 million, is almost twice as much as any other coach in the tournament. Scroll down past Capello on that list of salaries for the 32 coaches in Brazil, keep going, then just a little further and you’ll finally come to the very bottom and the name of Miguel Herrera on the relative peanuts of $209,810.
It would be fair to say that, eight months into his job, Mexico’s coach has more than earned his corn and, just perhaps, may even have a case to bring up the subject of a raise. Taking over when Mexico were in the doldrums having sneaked into a playoff through a most undignified of back doors, Herrera safely saw the team through to Brazil and has so far ensured that a dismal 2013 for the Mexico national team is already a distant memory.
Herrera’s joyous, charismatic personality has seen him become something of an internet star in recent days and there is little doubt that it has also played a big part in transforming the mood of the players. Such positivity is also reflected in the tactics of the former Club America coach, which encourage attacking play and have removed the shackles from a talented group of players.
But, more than just a colorful character, Herrera, who led Mexico to four points and second place in a tough group containing Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, has also proven himself a shrewd operator on soccer’s biggest stage.
The team had often been exposed as overly adventurous leading into the World Cup, but he has managed to get the balance right when the real action got underway. A midfield three of José Juan Vázquez, Andrés Guardado and the thus far exceptional Hector Herrera have combined defensive tenacity, quality on the ball and an ability to get forward. Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest decision of his reign in making 35-year-old Rafa Márquez the captain and the one man guaranteed a starting role has proven inspired. His still superb passing range has been a major plus, as has his leadership traits on a team previously lacking them. It was fitting that it was his header that brought about the crucial opening goal in the deciding group game against Croatia.
Mexico will now take on the Netherlands in Fortaleza looking to continue their run and end a streak of five successive World Cup exits at the Round of 16 stage. There Herrera will come up against a coach with a sharply contrasting personality but who has had a similarly rejuvenating effect on his country’s national team.
It’s a fairly safe bet that you won’t find Louis van Gaal the subject of any social media memes, taking any selfies or photo bombing members of his team in the coming weeks. Even so much as a smile is generally hard to come by for the hugely respected Dutch coach who will take charge of Manchester United once his World Cup comes to an end. What he certainly has done, though, is to put the smile back on the faces of Dutch supporters.
The Netherlands reached the final in 2010 but were widely panned across the globe, not least back home, for an approach that was defensive, overly physical and distinctly un-Dutch. When coach Bert van Marwijk couldn’t even deliver results at the 2012 European Championships as the team crashed out at the group stage, he was dismissed with the country’s soccer was at a low ebb.
Thus those in charge turned back to the man, who, more than any coach working today, has been associated with the principles of Dutch soccer -- 4-3-3 formation, proactive, attractive play and a focus on developing youth. Despite breezing through qualification, a mixture of inexperienced players still plying their trade in the Eredivisie and some remaining veterans likely in their last World Cup traveled to Brazil with limited expectations. Those have since been raised enormously by the team’s performances.
It has been done, though, without a dogmatic adherence to Dutch principals. Van Gaal has alternated between a 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 formations. A stunning 5-1 opening win over holders Spain came utilizing the latter and based on a direct attacking style to utilize the pace in attack of Arjen Robben. Subsequent wins over Australia and Chile failed to reach those heights but with maximum points, a deep run is now expected.
The only enforced absentee for either side is José Juan Vázquez, who misses out through suspension. The Netherlands should welcome back defender Bruno Martins Indi after he missed the win over Chile with concussion.
The loss of Vázquez is a major blow for Mexico. In his place could well be 34-year-old Carlos Salcido, who struggled there desperately when moved into a holding midfield role in a pre-World Cup friendly loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mexico still have the tools to cause the Netherlands plenty of problems and it promises to be a closely contested affair. A key battle will be down the flanks where, if the Dutch revert back to three at the back, the side which is able to get their wing-backs into more advanced positions could go a long way to establishing superiority.
The hot and humid conditions in Fortaleza should count in Mexico’s favor, but ultimately the pace in of Robben could expose a Mexican backline that contains the aging legs of Márquez and Francisco Rodríguez.
Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
In 90 minutes:
Netherlands win: Evens
Mexico win: 11/4
Where to watch: The 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match will kick off from the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.