Mexico won rampantly with a sensational second half performance after a tight first half affair in Recife to set up a Second Round tie with the Netherlands, and another shot at a fifth game in the World Cup. Croatia will be disappointed that they didn’t manage to break down the Mexican defence until it was consolation time, but on balance of the game, didn’t deserve to be the team to go through.
Story of the Game
As the game was a must-win for Croatia and a mustn’t lose for Mexico, the game started cagily, both teams trying desperately to get a grasp of each other without selling themselves short at the back. Croatia probably started the better of the sides, Ivan Rakitic allowing namesake Ivan Perisic to let fly from range, but the Wolfsburg man didn’t even test Guillermo Ochoa under pressure from the Mexican defence. Moments later, Perisic turned creator, earning his side a corner, which Ivica Olic headed at the far post towards Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic; however, the only meaningful contact with the ball was a clearing header by Mexican defender Paul Aguilar.
This allowed a slight respite for Mexico’s rearguard, Hector Herrera taking a pot shot from distance and coming agonisingly close, hitting the bar as a panicked Stipe Pletikosa looked on in horror. In spite of Mexico creating that, the best chance of the game, Croatia continued to create more in terms of quantity, with Guillermo Ochoa not in quite the imperious form he was in against Brazil; the goalkeeper looking slightly beleaguered and flappy in response to Croatian pressure, rather than assured like a week before.
Mexico were, however, preventing the Croatian midfield from getting into full flow, with Ivan Perisic frustratedly shooting high and wide, before Mexico created themselves, Oribe Peralta getting in behind for the first time of the game and drawing Stipe Pletikosa into a good save. Both teams went into half time with the deadlock unbroken, but with good chances for both sides being had – it was a matter of time until something went in.
Croatia began again on the attack, opening up at the defence, but as in the second half were not able to create a proper chance because of the well organised Mexican defence. They even took off defensively-minded Sime Vrsaljko for Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic to help make such a task easier; it was, however, not to be. Minutes later, Mexico went down the other end and Leverkusen wide man shot against Darijo Srna’s hand, but the referee decided that there was nothing doing, awarding a corner to Mexico instead.
Mexico began to come into the game as an attacking force more, bolstered by the impact of Javier Hernandez’s more direct approach than the man he replaced, Giovanni dos Santos, and eventually their renewed approach paid off. From a corner, Mexico caused chaos in the Croatian box, ex-Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez heading home in style for his country to take the lead. Minutes later, on a counter, Mexico looked dangerous again. Croatia cleared as far as Andres Guardado on the edge of the area, but the defender made no mistake, hammering home in style to seal the game and spark scenes of jubilation both within the stands – where the majority of fans were supporting the Central Americans – and in the Mexican dugout, coach Miguel Herrera sharing hugs with all the players who had run over to him.
Not long later, Mexico were even further ahead. From another corner, Croatia couldn’t defend a run from Rafael Marquez, who this time headed across goal for an unmarked Javier Hernandez to finish things for good; a good header past Stipe Pletikosa from the Manchester United striker, to top off a handy cameo.
There was time for a Croatian consolation – Ivan Perisic striding onto a Rakitic pass to fire home stylishly past Guillermo Ochoa – but it clearly wasn’t to be for Croatia, who despite dominating the first half and a good swathe of the second, couldn’t finish the job and crumbled defensively. All credit to Mexico who were once more set up incredibly by their coach Herrera, and took their chances very well. Overall, a deserved win for Mexico, who’ll now face Group B winners, the Netherlands, in the Second Round. The Croatians, meanwhile, will be heading back home.
Player Ratings (out of 10)
Stipe Pletikosa – 4: Should have done better with a number of chances.
Darijo Srna – 5: Could quite easily have given away a penalty, was lucky not to do so.
Vedran Corluka – 6: Cleared a Mexican chance off the line at 0-0, and was unlucky to lose Marquez for Mexico’s first. Not an awful performance.
Dejan Lovren – 5: Wasn’t bad, but didn’t show any obvious strengths in his performance either.
Danijel Pranjic – 5: His performance wasn’t as bad as his hair.
Sime Vrsaljko – 5: Playing at the foot of the midfield, the full back wasn’t his usual self, and couldn’t help break down Mexico’s defence.
Ivan Rakitic – 6: Got his assist but it was too late by then. Not the best World Cup by the highly rated midfielder.
Luka Modric – 6: Playing as a number 10 until the introduction of Kovacic, Modric showed why he’s better deeper in midfield.
Ivan Perisic – 7: Scored a very nice goal late on, but was wasteful earlier in the game.
Ivica Olic – 6: Worked hard but to no avail.
Mario Mandzukic – 5: Didn’t have a sniff, the Mexican defence doubling up on him for most of the game.
Mateo Kovacic – 5: Didn’t do very much going forward, indeed his substitution opened Croatia up defensively.
Ante Rebic – 4: Poor cameo by Rebic, who did nothing before being sent off late doors after a terrible challenge on Carlos Pena.
Nikica Jelavic – 5: Didn’t have much time to do much, but still managed to be rubbish.
Guillermo Ochoa – 6: Didn’t have as much to do as against Brazil, but should probably have saved the Perisic goal. Otherwise, a decent performance.
Francisco Rodriguez – 7: Worked very well against the Croatian attack, to nullify them.
Hector Moreno – 6: Another decent performance from Moreno.
Miguel Layun – 6: A good presence in defence, but no key scenes to speak of.
Rafael Marquez – 8: How is this guy still going? Incredible performance by Marquez, scoring one, assisting one, and helping out handily in defence.
Paul Aguilar – 7: Helped transition from defence to attack well, as well as defending well himself.
Andres Guardado – 7: His goal essentially won the game for Mexico, while his all-round play was also pretty handy.
Hector Herrera – 7: Stung the crossbar in the first half and helped get to grips with the Croatian midfield all game. Good performance.
Jose Vazquez – 6: Combative performance from Vazquez, which is probably what was needed against the Croatian threat.
Giovanni Dos Santos – 6: Didn’t manage to create very much – Mexico looked more dangerous after he went off.
Oribe Peralta – 6: Missed a few chances, but was a constant threat to his defenders.
Javier Hernandez – 7: Finally got his goal, but really scared the Croatian defence, his impact helping out for three goals, and very nearly winning Mexico a penalty.
Carlos Pena – 6: Helped re-balance the side following the 2-0 lead, replacing Peralta.
Marco Fabian – 6: Didn’t have much time to affect proceedings.
Man of the Match
Rafael Marquez. Words just don’t describe how important Marquez is for this Mexico side, yet he’s been around for seemingly forever. A goal and an assist may not be quite what you look for in a defensive player, but Marquez also was a key presence in defence, a true on field leader helping to arrange the men around him and carry the ball forward to the more creative players.