Klaas Jan Huntelaar kept his cool in the heat of Fortaleza as Holland stunned Mexico with a stoppage-time winner.
The Schalke striker fired home a penalty to put the Dutch through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup as they inflicted an agonising defeat on Mexico who were within two minutes of a historic win, leading through Giovani dos Santos’s excellent strike.
Wesley Sneijder’s blistering volley pulled Holland level before Arjen Robben won a penalty and substitute Huntelaar smashed it home to send the Dutch fans into ecstasy.
It was familiar misery for Mexico – it is now six consecutive World Cups where they have been knocked out at this stage of the tournament.
This time it had seemed the elements were on their side. It was 30 degrees C and 70 per cent humidity meaning that FIFA’s limit had been passed allowing for official cooling and drinks breaks midway through each half.
Mexico looked more comfortable with conditions and took the game to the Dutch, whose cause was not helped by midfield enforcer Nigel de Jong going off apparently injured after only nine minutes.
Even before then, Mexico had taken the game to Holland.
Miguel Layun blazed over from 25 yards and then fired wide before skinning full-back Paul Verhaegh, but his cross just evaded Dos Santos.
Hector Herrera was the next to threaten for the Mexicans after some lovely build-up, but he just snatched at his shot and it drifted wide.
Herrera caused the Holland fans to sweat even more when Ron Vlaar followed through a clearance with a high foot in the air, but his penalty claims were waved away.
Dos Santos then combined nicely with Oribe Peralta but the Villarreal striker’s low shot was gathered by Jasper Cillessen.
Holland were reliant on a flash of brilliance from Robben or Robin van Persie and each caused some fear for Mexico.
First van Persie took the ball down and seemed poised for a trademark lash at goal but, off balance, sliced his volley badly wide. Just before half-time Rafael Marquez slipped to concede possession to van Persie who found Robben running into the penalty area only to be taken down by a combination of Marquez and Hector Moreno.
Only Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca could explain why he did not award the penalty. Mexico’s dominance paid off three minutes after the break, when Dos Santos fastened onto Vlaar’s attempted headed clearance and, running across goal under pressure from Daley Blind, smacked a low shot back inside the far post.
Holland had to respond and they gave it everything. Only a point-blank save from Guillermo Ochoa kept them out. Stefan De Vrij arrived to thump in Robben’s corner, but the ball hit Ochoa’s gloves and head and glanced onto the inside of the post and clear.
Robben had another decent penalty appeal turned down before Ochoa bailed Mexico out again when one-on-one with the winger.
Coach Louis van Gaal’s last throw of the dice was to give Jan Huntelaar his first chance of the tournament, in place of the tired-looking van Persie, and that proved decisive.
With three minutes of normal time left, Huntelaar won a header from a corner and Sneijder lashed in a shot with such power that Ochoa did not even move.
Then came Robben, once again making the most of contact inside the box from Marquez, leaving Huntelaar to show his class from the spot.
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera raged at Robben, the referee and FIFA after Holland’s last-gasp victory.
Herrera claimed Robben committed three dives, including for the decisive penalty, and criticised FIFA for appointing a referee from the same continent – Portugal’s Pedro Proenca.
Holland counterpart Louis van Gaal said he used FIFA’s new official cooling breaks to instruct his players on a change of tactics.
He said: “I moved to a ‘plan B’ and, yes, I did that in the cooling break but that’s a clever way of benefiting from these breaks.”
Van Gaal paid tribute to substitute Huntelaar’s coolness under pressure.
He added: “Everyone knows Klaas Jan Huntelaar takes penalties at Schalke and there had been a foul against Robben, and he asked Huntelaar if he wanted to take it. He doesn’t need any encouragement and he’s very cool and did an excellent job.”