Mexico moves into Confederations Cup semifinal as stars send Osorio reminder

Miguel Layun Denis Glushakov Mexico Russia Confederations CupFRANCK FIFE

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio walked into the stadium in Kazan ahead of his team's meeting with Russia wearing a t-shirt that said "zero excuses." And indeed there would've been none had El Tri fallen to the host nation and crashed out of the Confederations Cup.

Instead, thanks to standout performance from some of his best players, Osorio and Mexico are into the next round after a 2-1 victory.

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After a heavy overhaul for a group game against New Zealand, most of El Tri's stars were back on the pitch and helped the team find a victory when just a point would've been enough to advance to the next round.

It's not that the game was never in doubt, but once Nestor Araujo's header brought the score level after Aleksandr Samedov's opener it was clear Mexico would have the quality needed to keep its tournament going. Now the goal has been achieved, though a potential rematch with Chile after last year's 7-0 defeat in the Copa America Centenario looms as a match Mexico also might have to win for the trip to Russia to be considered a success.

"We competed really well. We're continuing to construct a team that every time goes out and shows more determination and skill," Osorio said after the match.

The Colombian coach always will rotate, but Saturday's contest saw the manager make a switch back to the top players available to him. Hirving Lozano made his first appearance of the tournament after leaving camp before the second game to close a deal to join PSV. And Osorio's decision to start the former Pachuca standout was rewarded with a bold header on a Hector Herrera long ball for the winning goal.

"I saw that Hector Herrera controlled the ball and that he was going to hit it hard. I was reading it." Lozano said. "From there, I started to run and I saw the ball. It bounces and I headed it."

Herrera's inclusion also spoke to the quality in the team. The Porto midfielder helped rescue El Tri earlier in the week and was again instrumental for Mexico, setting up both goals while also protecting the back line. Andres Guardado, who will miss the next match because of a yellow card, and Jonathan dos Santos also made life difficult for a Russia team that rarely broke through to test a defense that is still working out its chemistry and communication.

That chemistry was better, though, as Miguel Layun returned to push up on the left side, though he later had to move to the right with Diego Reyes coming off with a knock. And a fit Hector Moreno showed why his health is so important to Mexico's defense and attacking abilities as the left center back started attacks and kept Russia forward Fyodor Smolov silent.

And while Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Carlos Vela have had better games, they each found space that will yield results if they continue to make positive movement against opponents.

Hector Moreno Igor Smolnikov Mexico Russia Confederations Cup

While the result at the end of the game was the same and El Tri had to rally in both contests, how Mexico managed this game compared with the one against New Zealand was night and day. Mexico had a bright start and even after falling behind never looked like panicking.

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"We played with everything in all three (group games), no game was easy," Dos Santos said after the game. "This game we had the result going against us and we had to come back, but I think the team has done a great job in the group phase and now we're onto the semifinals."

The star players seemed to be sending Osorio a message: Don't forget about us. You've brought us to Russia for a reason. We're going to give you the best chance at victory no matter the situation.

After the week's scare against the All Whites and the fleeting moments after Russia's opener when an early flight back to North America passed through fans' minds, the top players provided the boost Mexico needed to extend its tournament run and will be critical as the trophy is just two games away.