Mexico clinches final 16 spot, KO's Croatia from World Cup
JUN 23, 2014 6:00p ET
Mexico advanced to the round of 16 for a sixth consecutive World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Croatia in Recife.
“We said we wanted to make history and get through this stage," said Javier Hernandez after the match. "It was very hard because these are very hard national teams like Cameroon, Brazil and Croatia. I think we did it in the best way possible, scoring goals, playing good football and showing what we said in the interviews. Now we are speaking on the pitch. That is the most important part."
El Tri entered the final day needing only a point to progress, but it produced an impressive second-half performance to claim all three points against the disappointing Croatians. Rafa Márquez and Andrés Guardado scored within three second-half minutes to consolidate El Tri’s superiority on the day. Javier Hernández broke his year-long goal drought by notching the third inside the final 10 minutes.
Ivan Perisic offered Croatia a late consolation goal before Ante Rebic’s late dismissal, but those events did not prevent Mexico from booking a round of 16 tie with Netherlands on Sunday. It proved no less than Mexico deserved over the course of its three matches. El Tri boss Miguel Herrera lifted his players over the past few months and molded them into a coherent and confident unit capable of finally drawing out all of the evident talent within the ranks.
This performance – another mixture of ambition and resolve throughout the team – underscores the effectiveness of those efforts. It is now down to Herrera and his players to continue these strides against the Dutch to upset the odds and fulfill the stated objective of reaching the quarterfinals.
Croatia accepted the burden of pushing forward in the early stages in a bid to secure its required victory, but Mexico hinted at the triumph to come with its organization. El Tri set out its stall a bit deeper than it did against Brazil in the early stages, but Miguel Herrera’s side used the firm foundation to restrict the space and time allotted to Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in central midfield.
Those measures eventually provided a platform to venture forward at the proper times. Mexico pushed into the attacking half intelligently with Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún picking up the right spots to blunt the possible counter. Those endeavors eventually yielded the best chance of the first half just after the half-hour.
Herrera -- the brightest figure on the day for El Tri -- maneuvered out of pressure in the congested center of the park and sliced toward the left side of the penalty area. He fired his shot back across the face of the goal and watched his stinging effort smack the far side of the cross bar and bounce away to safety.
Oribe Peralta then slipped as he attempted to latch onto Herrera’s slotted diagonal behind the line moments later as Mexico continued to find its footing. Croatia replied from time to time from dead ball situations and tucked an extra player inside to make it three-versus-three in midfield, but Modric and Rakitic flitted in and out of the proceedings without making any genuine impact before the break.
Mexico gradually increased its control over the match in the early stages of the second half. Its energy and its ambition pegged the Croatians back for longer spells. Niko Kovac chucked promising playmaker Mateo Kovacic into the fray in a bid to alter the course, but El Tri continued to control the proceedings and present issues in the final third.
It should have paid off with a penalty just after the hour. Guardado lined up a shot on the edge of the penalty area and fired toward the near post. Dario Srna handled the effort, but the referee waved away Mexico’s protests to the incredulity of Herrera. Croatia then hacked the resulting corner off the line. By this point, Mexico were well in front and far more likely to score. All of the pressure finally told with two goals in three minutes to eventually secure safe passage into the Round of 16.
Márquez -- so vital with his interventions at the back during this group stage – snatched the critical first from a set piece. Herrera capped his influential display with an inviting service toward the far post. Márquez rose highest and turned his header inside the post to spark wild celebrations. Guardado doubled the lead shortly thereafter to usher Croatia out of the tournament. Hernandez participated deftly in the buildup through midfield and picked out Peralta on the right side of the penalty area. Peralta squared intelligently for Guardado to direct home the critical second.
The rampant Mexicans continued to pour forward in a bid to overhaul Brazil at the top of the group and provided Hernandez with a chance to end his year-long goal drought. It came in the perfect fashion as he popped up at the far post and tucked away an open header from close range.
Croatia did its best to take some of the gloss off the victory with Perisic’s late goal and Rebic’s nasty challenge on second-half substitute Carlos Peña, but those late interjections did not halt the party or prevent Mexico from claiming its deserved place in the last 16.
“Today, we are going to celebrate a little bit to enjoy this victory because, again, this is one of the best national teams in Europe," said Hernandez after the match. "We have to enjoy it. Tomorrow, we’ll start thinking about the team we’re going to play. It’s a good national team with unbelievable players, but, like I told you, we want to make history. In order to do that, we need to beat the Netherlands."