World Cup: Mexico off to knockout rounds with 3-1 win over Croatia


Jun 23, 2014; Recife, Pernambuco, BRAZIL; Mexico defender Rafael Marquez (4) celebrates his goal against Croatia during the second half of Mexico

Needing just a draw to advance to the knockout rounds against tough UEFA competition in Croatia, Mexico continued the CONCACAF’s strong showing at the World Cup to date with a 3-1 win that secured second place in Group A and a date with Netherlands in the Round of 16.

After manager Miguel Herrera’s 5-3-2 formation once again led to a tight defensive performance from El Tri, captain and former New York Red Bulls defender/defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez would be the hero for Mexico scoring on a header in the 72nd minute to put the impressive Mexicans up 1-0. Just three minutes later Andres Guardado would score to make it 2-0 on a counter attack from a Mexico side that didn’t just rely on the fact a draw would secure advancement into the knockout stages, going for a statement win.

That statement was clear when Javier Hernandez scored a back post header to make it 3-0 over Croatia, giving Mexico more than enough revenge for Croatia’s manager and players commenting that they were the stronger and more skilled team in the lead up to the match. Despite a strong start and a late goal from Ivan Perisic to end Mexico’s shutout streak at the World Cup it was clear that El Tri were the superior players on the pitch and not the Croatians who had to settle for what was an unexpected early exit after having high hopes of getting out of the group.

In fact Mexico’s play in the World Cup may have surprised everyone if not for their strong history of performing in the group stages of the tournament, having now advanced to the knockout rounds in six straight tournaments. That streak looked in danger of ending before the World Cup even began, when a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica required a United States win in Panama to allow Mexico a chance to qualify in a playoff against Oceania’s representative New Zealand to backdoor themselves into the field of 32 despite admittedly their worst qualifying performance in recent history.

However Herrera’s managerial guidance and tactics helped get Mexico out of their lows and into the knockout round, rejuvenating the careers of players that fans of El Tri had given up hope on and turning them back into beloved heroes. Giovanni Dos Santos earned a spot back in the starting XI alongside new star Oribe Peralta, Rafa Marquez went from the lowest depths of his career in the MLS to return to Leon of Liga MX and shore up a defensive based system as the crucial experienced leader in the back. Even Hernandez, a player with a goalless drought for El Tri that seemed liked it would never end, conquered his demons with the third goal that all be ensured that Mexico’s World Cup would continue.

Conceding just one goal in over 270 minutes of World Cup play against world class talent in both Brazil and Croatia showed how far Mexico had come from struggling to get points in CONCACAF qualifying to returning to the quality of play that their nations dedicated fans expect from their national team. Scoring three goals in the late stages of the second half, all notions of Mexico relying too much on the form of their defenders were put to rest as three of Mexico’s most familiar stars found the back of the net in quick succession to show they still present the danger on offense that is stereotypical to Mexican soccer. Blending the skilled passing game with an emphasis on not getting spread out in the back, Herrera’s tactics have El Tri playing their best football in what many feel is the country’s “Golden Generation.”

Their next test may be their greatest to date as their second place finish will see them go against the Netherlands who cruised to first place in Group B, easily dispatching defending World Cup champions Spain as well as Chile and Australia to earn the maximum nine points in the group. With star Bayern winger/attacker Arjen Robben in some of the best form of his life and on a mission to avenge their extra time loss to Spain in the 2010 World Cup Final, Herrera noted in his postmatch press conference that his players are in for a tough matchup against world class players. A task that the madman behind Mexico’s turnaround in Brazil will focus on only after enjoying completing the first task in their World Cup mission in getting out of the group stages.

Herrera on the Croatia win and facing Netherlands (from The Guardian

"“The first half lacked a bit of daring but as soon as the first goal went in you could see how happy it made the fans,” Herrera said. “It was just like playing at home. Tomorrow we will start working on the Netherlands. We know they have a solid team with important players but let’s enjoy tonight first. Tonight we spend with our families.”"

Whether or not Mexico will be able to continue their impressive run against the Dutch remains to be seen, and it might be safe to assume the potent Netherlands attack of Robben and Robin van Persie will test El Tri as much if not more than the Brazilians did in their Nil-Nil group stage draw. However you can also guarantee that whatever unfolds in the knockout rounds when the Dutch and Mexicans collide, Herrera and El Tri will be giving whatever they have to continue to test destiny in what has been yet another World Cup that has been made just a little bit better by the passion of one of the game’s underrated hotbeds. For the supporters who have flocked Brazil for the last weeks, hope and trust in Herrera and El Tri is back at an all time high for now.