The top team in Group F took on the bottom side, as Mexico looked to collect another three points against South Korea. Mexico knocked off the defending champions Germany in their first game, while South Korea lost to a more physical Sweden. The game started choppy, with some sloppy fouls from both sides, and neither team was able to create much of a chance in the early goings. Indeed, South Korea committed 7 fouls within the first 11 minutes, but Mexico were unable to create clear-cut chances from their set pieces. Carlos Vela tucked home a penalty in the 26th minute off the most blatant handball of this World Cup; it was an emotional moment for him, as his grandfather had sadly passed away just five days before. Mexico were forced to defend in stretches at the start of the second half, but Javier Hernandez finished off an odd-man attack with a scuffed finish to make it 2-0 in the 66th minute. The game continued to open up, and Heung-Min Son scored a beautiful curling strike in the 90th minute. However, it would prove to be nothing more than consolation, as Mexico were able to hold out for a 2-1 win, essentially securing Mexico’s place in the knockout rounds.
South Korea, Starless Without Son
While South Korea have a disciplined team, their squad lacks star players. With the exception of Heung-Min Son, South Korea did not pose any real creative threat to Mexico on the counter. Son mustered many shots himself, but he often found himself outnumbered by Mexican defenders. The “Red Devils” would throw four or five bodies forward, but they were too predictable. By the time they added a little midfield dynamism with former Barcelona prospect Lee Seung-Woo, Mexico had unlocked how to defend their system, after all, Mexico were forced to defend against offensive powerhouse Germany for much of their previous match. We stated in our Contenders and Pretenders article at the start of the tournament that this South Korea side was “one of the worst sides in the tournament.” Thus far, they have lived up to that low bar, although this performance was better than their last. Son did finally make the breakthrough in the 90th minute, placing a beautiful shot around Guillermo Ochoa, but it was clear from the start that South Korea did not have the ability to beat this Mexico team. As the BBC commentary team put it, “South Korea can only be as good as the quality of their players,” and despite Son’s heroics, the Asian side are likely on their way out.
Ochoa: The World Cup’s Best Keeper?
Guillermo Ochoa had a fantastic tournament in 2014, which earned him a move to Malaga. Somewhat confusingly, Ochoa became the backup there, only playing 11 games for the club over three years. Now the starting keeper for Standard Liege in Belgium, Ochoa has put in two consecutive world-class performances. It is rare that players consistently play better for their national team than their club teams, but Ochoa is one such player. It took a phenomenal strike to beat him, after he made five important saves, even included an impressive save off a deflected strike. Ochoa will need his stay sharp in the knockout rounds for Mexico to finally get past the round of 16 for the first time in their history.
Mexico: The Sky’s the Limit?
Two straight victories have made Mexico the sleeper hit of the World Cup. They have shown their proficiency on the counter, and El Tri looked comfortable in possession today as well. Juan Carlos Osorio has implemented a system to get the most out of each player – for example, he isolates Hirving Lozano so he can take on defenders with his skills and pace, and he doesn’t force Chicharito to play as a traditional striker, instead letting him play as a poacher in and around the box as well as checking back into the midfield to create more lanes to pass through. Mexico have also demonstrated their ability to defend as a unit, although they did switch off to allow the Son goal. Despite that momentary lapse, this Mexico team would be a threat to any side on the planet with their current play.