Arjen Robben did little to defuse the debate about his reputation for diving as the Netherlands staged a late comeback to earn victory over Mexico.
The Netherlands forward earned an injury-time penalty on Sunday and then watched as teammate Klaas Jan Huntelaar converted from the spot to give the Dutch a come-from-behind 2-1 win to set up a quarter-final meeting with Costa Rica in Salvador on Saturday.
Robben collapsed theatrically under a challenge from Rafael Marquez, causing emotional Mexico coach Miguel Herrera to blame his team’s loss on referee Pedro Proenca.
“We ended up losing because he whistled [for] a penalty that did not exist,” he said, adding that Robben “dived three times. The referee should have cautioned him.”
Throughout his career, Robben has had a reputation for frequently falling and looking for a penalty or free kick.
But the 30-year-old Bayern Munich star appears to have matured. In recent seasons, it has been his scintillating form rather than theatrical falls that have grabbed headlines.
He set up a goal and scored the winner in Bayern’s 2013 Champions League final win and has been in the form of his life in Brazil, scoring three times and providing an inch-perfect assist for a Memphis Depay goal in the three Dutch victories in Group B.
In Fortaleza’s Arena Castelao he appeared to be unlucky not to have won a penalty shortly before half time, when Mexico defenders Marquez and Hector Moreno raced back to tackle him after he linked up with Robin van Persie in a fast break.
“If that wasn’t a penalty, I don’t know what is,” Robben said.
But he conceded that he had taken one dive earlier in the first half that the referee waved off.
“I have to say, in the first half – and right away offer my excuses – I dived. I mustn’t do that. It was another stupid action,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS.
WATCH: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar wins it from the spot
Mexico captain Marquez said that Robben conceded he had dived in injury time too – though Robben did not say that on Dutch television.
“I spoke with [Robben] after the match and he told me that it was not a penalty,” Marquez said. “He said that the first foul was a penalty and that one was not called.”
WATCH: Giovani dos Santos puts Mexico in front
In a match conditioned by the baking heat and humidity in Fortaleza, Giovani dos Santos looked to have Mexico on the way to their first quarter-final appearance on foreign soil when he opened the scoring three minutes into the second-half.
However, Wesley Sneijder levelled with a thumping volley from the edge of the area two minutes from time before Huntelaar converted from the spot in stoppage time after Marquez had upended Robben.
WATCH: Wesley Sneijder equalises for the Dutch
“The players showed they had faith and belief until the very end,” said coach Louis van Gaal.
“The humidity was not in our favour so when you see that until the very last minute we were fresher and fitter than the Mexicans that is a big compliment to my players.
“Not only did they have belief but physically they prepared so well to play this match. That of course gives us enormous confidence going forward.”
Van Gaal surprisingly replaced captain Robin Van Persie with substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar in the 76th minute.
However, his decision was to prove inspired as firstly Huntelaar turned Robben’s corner in the direction of the lurking Sneijder to power home from the edge of the box.
And after Robben was adjudged by referee Proenca to have been clipped by Marquez in the fourth minute of stoppage time, the Schalke striker coolly stroked home the resulting penalty to eliminate Mexico at the last 16 stage for a sixth consecutive World Cup.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse