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Stunning comeback almost surprises Van Gaal

‘I believe that the players showed that they had faith and believed to the very end’

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands (C) is fouled by Rafael Marquez of Mexico at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza. Photograph: EPA

He doesn’t so much walk into the press conference as accuse his way in. Only minutes earlier Louis van Gaal has watched his players achieve a comeback that will rank as astonishing even in this coach’s long career. He is saving all expressions of delight until after he gets disdain out of the way.

There will be questions about tactics – in particular the shift in the second half from 5-3-2 to traditional-Dutch 4-3-3, and the amazing improvement it brought about. Questions such as this bring the most caustic responses.

“Let me explain it to you . . . ” he drips sarcastically. We should be annoyed at the derision, but would actually quite like the run-through, thank you very much.

After a first half in which the Netherlands looked ruined by the heat, the way they finished the game caught everyone – except Van Gaal – by surprise.

“I believe that the players showed that they had faith and believed to the very end. The humidity was not in our favour, and if you see that until the very last minute we were fitter, fresher than the Mexico players. I think a big credit to my players.

“Not only did they have the belief today, but they prepared so well physically for this match, and that of course gives us enormous confidence.”

Wesley Sneijder especially was on hand when needed most, hammering the ball home with his right foot two minutes from time and transforming the outcome.

“He became one of the fittest players of the Dutch team, he runs the most kilometres, he has this kicking technique and I’ve known this for a couple of years now so that doesn’t surprise me,” said van Gaal.

Words for penalty taker and ultimate hero Klaas-Jan Huntelaar too

“Huntelaar takes penalties at Schalke 04, there’s been a foul against Robben. ‘Don’t you want to take it’, I asked. He didn’t need encouragement. He took that, was very cool.”

Huntelaar had come on for Robin van Persie at about the same time as Javier Hernandez was introduced for Mexico, and at that moment you had to rub your eyes when you looked at the scoreboard. Was it really the Dutch chasing the game?

“Van Persie was a tactical substitution. Let’s not forget before Van Persie joined the Dutch team, he was just recovering from injury so it’s difficult for him to play for 90 minutes. This trainer wants to win so he substitutes the player.”

The last remark was pointed.

So about this 4-3-3 business… food for thought?

“Today was an escape. But yes in the second half, we played 4-3-3, it’s a big compliment to the players because they see what’s happened.”

Poor Miguel Herrera, the highly popular Mexico manager, was distraught, and referee Pedro Proencia was in his firing line. The penalty decision was, suggested Herrera, part of a conspiracy – a foul “invented by him”.

“The others [the Netherlands] did a good job, they continued to fight and with the assistance of the referee they got a result . . . .”

But why, overall, were you eliminated?

“It seems to me the reason was the referee, the man with the whistle. He left us outside the next stage of the World Cup, ” said Herrera. “If the referee starts marking fouls that don’t exist, you leave the World Cup to circumstances out of your hands . . . ”