Sunday, in Recife, Brazil, the Mexican National Football Team soundly defeated the Croatian team 3-1 and earned a match-up between two of the better sides of the World Cup in an upcoming Group of 16 contest with Holland.
The Mexicans, who made it to the cup via a playoff against Oceania contender New Zealand after the USA beat Panama in a surprising ending to CONCACAF’s qualifiers, has been peaking at the right time. After a win over Australia and a draw with Brazil, the Mexicans were flying high and did not need the extra motivation of the comments made by the Croatians. But they got it anyway
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Croatian team coach Niko Kovac suggested that the Mexicans had been lucky in drawing with Brazil earlier in group play and that Croatia had the guns to score against shutout king Guillermo Ochoa who had not allowed a goal so far. Kovac closed by saying “if anyone’s knees should be trembling it should be theirs.” Mexican coach Miguel Herrera responded that what the teams needed to do was “prove [their worth] on the pitch.”
Mexico proved they were the better team by dominating possession and chances for most of the game and scoring three goals before the Croats got one back in the very late minutes of the match.
The game was a tough test for both teams who battled each other, with skill and rough play, to a scoreless draw the first half. The same type of play continued with the same results in the second half, until the 72nd minute, when a corner gave Rafa Marquez a chance to out-jump everyone in the box and head down and near the far post for the opening score.
The lead did not dissuade the Mexicans from continuing to attack. When second half substitute Chicharito Hernandez came into the game at the 62nd minute the Mexicans’ had picked up the pace and soon after the Marquez score Hernandez led a counter that eventually left Andres Guardado alone in the box with a perfect cross sent his way to convert the second goal at the 75th minute.
With the game in effect decided and the Croats putting up tough but not skilled resistance, Hernandez notched his first goal for Mexico in over a year, a close in header, to put the game to rest and all Croatian hopes to bed. But there was more as frustration and pride led the Coats to both rougher play and a goal.
At the 86th minute Ivan Perisic scored from close range on the Croats best play of the game capped by a sublime Ivan Rakitic assist that left Perisic one-on-one with Ochoa. But two minutes later Ante Rebic was shown a red card for a rash studs-up challenge. The last few minutes were uneventful, but Mexico has made a statement this World Cup. They have shown they are a team to content with and when added to Costa Rica that CONCACAF is stronger than most had assumed.
With a masterful game plan against Chile, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal might have thought he earned a break when he was spared Chile’s fate and avoided meeting Brazil in the next round. But now the Netherlands will be playing another team that is on the upswing and the chess match may well have begun anew.