FIFA World Cup 2018: Mexico's all-round excellence stands out in 2-1 win over South Korea

For Mexico, things couldn’t have been any better than they are at the moment. Having already defeated Germany and South Korea, El Tri are just a point away from finishing atop their group and possibly avoiding Brazil in the next round of the 2018 World Cup.

There is a long-standing hoodoo of the inability to get past the Round-of-16 stage that often acts as a burden for Mexico, but Juan Carlos Osorio’s team of experienced campaigners and youthful showstoppers are on their way to breaking it.

Mexico's forward Javier Hernandez (2L) scores their second goal against South Korea on Saturday. AFP

Mexico's forward Javier Hernandez (2L) scores their second goal against South Korea on Saturday. AFP

Mexico’s fast-paced, transition-based style of play has been pleasing on the eye, but in the heat of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, Osorio’s men had to navigate the eternally tricky South Koreans. They did so admirably, despite some hiccups and the overly physical nature of their opponents.

While their historic win over Germany last week was based on quality work off the ball, South Korea posed a different challenge in that Mexico had to control the game themselves. Having completely operated in counterattacking mode against Germany, the switch towards having more of the ball and dictating proceedings proved awkward against the South Koreans. However, El Tri had enough quality and form in their dynamic trio of attackers to all but secure their spot in next round.

In-form attack shines through
Carlos Vela opened the scoring in the first half for Mexico from the penalty spot after Jang Hyunsoo handled the ball inside his own box, while Hirving Lozano and Javier Hernandez combined to double Mexico’s lead in the second half with a replica of the former’s winner against Germany, only this time the roles were reversed.
That made for a productive evening for the quicksilver forwards and they have now been involved in all three of Mexico’s 2018 World Cup goals, an enviable position for Osorio to be in considering how other, bigger teams have struggled for offensive chemistry in the tournament.

Retooled defence weathers Korean storm as Ochoa continues good form
Following their opening defeat to Sweden where they looked flat from the outset, South Korea adopted a different tactic and attacked Mexico’s defence directly, which had worn a new look as Osorio dropped Hugo Ayala to accommodate Edson Alvarez, and Carlos Salcedo moved into central defence. This new-look defence was put to test by the directness of the Taeguk Warriors, who deployed starman Son Heungmin up front in a 4-4-1-1 system to run in behind the defence.

Son managed to stretch the Mexican backline on occasions with his pace but couldn’t quite find the finishing touch. The Tottenham Hotspur forward had a game-highest eight shots out of which five were from range, including his goal. South Korea’s plan was to shoot using the cultured Son, but Mexico squeezed space to restrict his efforts to low-quality ones.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa continued his fine fettle in front of goal and now leads the saves table with 14 in two games. He’ll need some shooting — like Son’s 93rd minute stunner of a consolation goal on Saturday — to get beaten in Russia this time around.

Mexico — World Cup’s dark horses?
Despite their dominance in the CONCACAF region, Mexico have always flattered to deceive at World Cups. El Tri have only made as far as the quarter-finals of a World Cup and even more damning is the fact that since the 1994 edition, they have bowed out at the Round-of-16 stage on each occasion.

This time, however, Mexico have given themselves a massive chance of righting their wrongs from previous editions should they hold on to their current top-of-the-table position in Group F. The incentive for the group winners is avoiding a clash against Brazil, who currently top Group E. While things may change and Brazil could even fail to finish atop their group, it is somewhat unlikely, and so is Mexico blowing away their current advantage.

Football, though, is a funny old game and it is probably better to wait until the group stage fixtures are done with, but with their win over the Taeguk Warriors, Osorio’s charges have now edged one more step closer to breaking a 24-year jinx.

Should they eventually manage that, there will be fewer doubts about Mexico’s ability to go the distance. If conquering Germany alerted the world to their talents, Saturday’s win over South Korea has certainly installed them as this World Cup’s dark horses.

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Updated Date: Jun 24, 2018 10:17 AM

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