Mexico march on to leave Korea Republic on the brink

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Mexico moved one step closer to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 as they claimed a 2-1 win over Korea Republic in Group F on Saturday.

Carlos Vela got the Mexicans on their way at the Rostov Arena with a 26th-minute penalty, before Javier Hernandez wrapped up the three points with a second six minutes after the hour mark.

Son Heung-min managed to pull one back for Korea Republic with a stunning strike in injury-time, but it proved to be a case of too little too late for them.

The result leaves Mexico top of Group F and they only need to avoid defeat against Sweden next Wednesday to secure their place in the last 16.

Meanwhile, while the South Koreans are not mathematically out of it – at least until the game between Germany and Sweden later on Saturday – it will take a minor miracle if they are to have any chances of keeping their World Cup dream alive.

At the very least, the Taegeuk Warriors can take pride in the fact that they did produce something better than the insipid display in the 1-0 loss to Sweden.

Expectedly, Tottenham star Son Heung-min was their most dangerous outlet and threatened the Mexico goal a couple of times in the opening exchanges.

But, six minutes before the half-hour mark, El Tricolor were handed the perfect opportunity to open the scoring when opposition defender Jang Hyun-soo needlessly went to the ground in an attempt to block an Andres Guardado cross – only to handle the ball inside the area.

The referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and, with similar conviction, Vela sent Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way from 12 yards to hand Mexico the lead.

Vela coolly hands Mexico the lead from the spot.

Unlike on Monday, when they failed to muster a single shot on target, Korea Republic were at least offering some resistance.

Ki Sung-yueng threatened in the 56th minute with a ferocious drive that Guillermo Ochoa could only gather at the second attempt, before Cho did well two minutes later to keep out a curler by Guardado at full stretch.

Nonetheless, Mexico did double their lead in the 66th minute with a counterattack that brought back memories of their winner against Germany.

Hernandez’s 50th goal for Mexico proved to be the match-winner.

This time, the roles were reversed as Hirving Lozano led the charge up the field before feeding a pass to Hernandez, who calmly skipped inside a defender before finishing into the back of the net.

To their credit, the Taegeuk Warriors refused to give in and pulled one back in the 93rd minute; Son receiving possession on the edge of the box and shifting the ball onto his left foot before bending a sublime effort into the far corner.

Son opens his account at the 2018 World Cup with a stunner.

Still, it proved to be little more than a mere consolation and Korea Republic will now need a favour from elsewhere if they are to have any chance of progressing to the knockout round.

KOREA REPUBLIC: Cho Hyun-woo, Lee Yong, Jang Hyun-soo, Kim Young-gwon, Kim Min-woo (Hong Chul 84’), Ju Se-jong (Lee Seung-woo 64’), Ki Sung-yueng, Moon Seon-min (Jung Woo-young 77’), Lee Jae-sung, Hwang Hee-chan, Son Heung-min.

MEXICO: Guillermo Ochoa, Edson Alvarez, Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Jesus Gallardo, Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado (Rafael Marquez 68’), Miguel Layun, Carlos Vela (Giovani dos Santos 77’), Hirving Lozano (Jesus Corona 71’), Javier Hernandez.