It wasn't always comfortable for El Tri, but as soon as Miguel Herrera's men found the breakthrough with 20 minutes to go, the floodgates opened. In the end, it was a 3-1 win over Croatia which advanced Mexico to its sixth consecutive World Cup round of 16.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from the decisive Group A clash.
Rafa Marquez comes through: As recently as a year ago, it seemed that Rafa Marquez’s storied Mexico career was over. However, a move from MLS to Leon led to a resurgence in his club career, which eventually resulted in the resurrection of his international career. In September 2013, Marquez was recalled into the Mexico setup, and he hasn’t looked back since.
At 35, Marquez is the heart and soul of El Tri. He’s the first player to captain his country at four World Cups, and head coach Miguel Herrera said before the World Cup that Marquez was the only player whose name was a definite in his starting XI. On Monday, Marquez came up big when his team absolutely needed him.
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In addition to a solid defensive showing, Marquez scored El Tri’s biggest goal in years when he rose up and powered a header past Stipe Pletikosa on a corner kick to give Mexico the lead. He wasn’t done though, as his header set up Javier Hernandez for his first national team goal in a year, a strike which could prove vital to the Manchester United’s man confidence as Mexico moves into the knockout phase.
Referees do El Tri no favors again: As if two wrongly disallowed Giovani dos Santos goals against Cameroon weren’t bad enough, bad refereeing struck Mexico once again versus Croatia. In the first half, referee Ravshan Irmatov missed an obvious handball off a Mexico corner kick, which led to a counterattack and Marquez taking a yellow card for a professional foul.
It would only get worse in the second half. Incredibly, El Tri was denied two penalty kicks in a three-second span. After Hernandez was barged out of the way of a cross, Andres Guardado struck a shot that defender Darijo Srna blocked with not one, but both hands. Somehow, Irmatov again missed the call, which led to a full-scale meltdown from Mexico’s players on the field and the team contingent on the bench. Luckily for El Tri, just like in the Cameroon game, the squad was able to overcome the poor refereeing and win.
Croatia’s tough challenges: There’s little doubt that Croatia head coach Niko Kovac wanted his players to physically intimidate their CONCACAF opponents, knowing that only a win would see the European nation through. Ivan Rakitic started the trend with a nasty challenge on Jose Juan Vazquez in the ninth minute that drew a deserved yellow. From there on, Croatia just kept at it. Vedran Corluka prompted a nasty head collision with Paul Aguilar when going for a header, and Dejan Lovren barged into Oribe Peralta later in the match.
It all culminated with Ante Rebic’s red card for a late challenge on Carlos Pena that was borne of frustration. El Tri will consider itself lucky to escape the match without injury.