Klaas Jan Huntelaar, on as a 76th-minute replacement for Robin van Persie, kept his nerve to slot home the spot-kick, won by Arjen Robben.
It was cruel on Mexico, who led from the 48th to the 88th minute thanks to Giovani Dos Santos’ wonderful long-range effort. But a Wesley Sneijder thunderbolt from 18 yards with just two minutes left on the clock, then Huntelaar’s ice-cool conversion from the spot, handed the Netherlands a snatch-and-grab result.
Mexico would have been good value for a famous victory, having created the better opportunities until Sneijder smashed home the equaliser.
Van Persie, back in the Netherlands’ starting line-up following his enforced absence in the final group-stage game, endured a frustrating afternoon and had to wait until the 25th minute before getting even a sniff of goal. When he did, he had to stretch to reach a long ball and couldn’t keep a right-footed effort down. It was as close as he came to finding the net.
There was little else for Dutch fans to cheer until the game’s closing moments, as the searing heat in Fortaleza took its toll on both teams and the match was understandably played at half speed.
But just three minutes into the second half, Mexico took the lead when former Barcelona forward dos Santos lashed a bouncing ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards. The goal forced the Dutch onto the front foot to find an equaliser and Stefan de Vrij saw a point-blank volley saved by a combination of goalkeeper and woodwork before more Guillermo Ochoa heroics kept Arjen Robben at bay.