CROATIA 1-3 MEXICO (WORLD CUP GROUP A)
Mexico progressed to the second round of the World Cup after a disciplined 3-1 victory over ten man Croatia in Recife.
Croatia manager Niko Kovac made one change from the side that beat Cameroon 4-0 with Sime Vrsaljko returning to the side at left back in place of Sammir with Danijel Pranjic moving into midfield and Luka Modric playing behind striker Mario Mandzukic. Mexico manager Miguel Herrera named the same starting eleven for the third game in a row.
Croatia needed to win to progress from Group A and started the brighter of the two sides but struggled to break down the five man Mexico defence with only a half chance which Ivan Perisic fired way over the most dangerous Croatia were. They may have looked better in the beginning but the Croatians were thanking their luck after 15 minutes.
Oribe Peralta got the ball to Hector Herrera and the Porto midfielder played a nice one-two with Giovani dos Santos. Herrera took a touch before smashing a left footed shot from 25 yards past Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal but wasn’t celebrating as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced clear.
The Mexicans were beginning to get in behind Croatia and just minutes after hitting the bar created another great opportunity. Herrera splayed a lovely through ball down the right side of the box for Peralta but the striker’s effort went the wrong way as he lost his footing when he was trying to shoot. It was a big let off for Croatia.
The Croatians responded well and began to keep the ball better but were struggling to create any clear cut opportunities to score. Pranjic fired over from the edge of the box while Perisic messed up a half volley from a similar position after Mandzukic had knocked down a long ball for the winger. Darijo Srna then fired a free kick over after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez had rather cynically ended a Croatian counter attack. Sadly, those would prove to be the best chances of the first half and both sides headed in deadlocked at the break.
Croatia began the second half with purpose but again struggled with their final ball as Mexico held firm. It was the Mexicans who had the first real chance in anger of the second half though when Peralta headed over from a corner. It was a dull start to the second half but it livened up when Mexico had a penalty claim just after the hour.
Paul Aguilar got forward from right wing back and turned Pranjic – who had moved to left back – inside out and got to the byline. His cross went right through after substitute Javier Hernandez went down under little contact all the way to Andres Guardado at the back post. The midfielder took a touch before seeing his half volley blocked behind by Srna. Every Mexican immediately claimed handball but to no avail despite replays showing that it was a clear penalty. Herrera’s resultant corner almost went straight in but for a goalline clearance by Vedran Corluka before Pletikosa denied Aguilar with his feet. Mexico were beginning to take charge as the Croatians were beginning to falter and they capitalised.
Herrera swung a corner in from the left hand side and captain Marquez leaped highest and sent a header towards goal. It was close to Pletikosa but the goalkeeper made a meal of it and could only get a hand to it and push it into the net. It was a heartbreaking goal for Croatia but one they richly deserved.
The Croatians were shell shocked and began throwing men forward but almost immediately paid for it. Mexico won the ball back on the halfway line and broke forward. Hernandez slipped the to Peralta on the right side and continued his run into the area. Peralta’s low cross was behind Hernandez but perfect for the onrushing Guardado who smashed it first time past Pletikosa. It was a fatal blow to Croatian hopes with 15 minutes to go but they did not give up.
Substitute Ante Rebic got the ball on the left wing and glided past three Mexican challenges on a mazy run into the area. He slotted his shot past Guillermo Ochoa but before he could celebrate, Hector Moreno slid in and cleared the ball away from goal. It was excellent defending from Moreno and really unlucky for Rebic who was denied one of the goals of the tournament. It proved to be crucial as well.
Guardado sent a corner over from the right to the near post which Marquez flicked on. It was perfect for Hernandez at the back post who was completely unmarked and headed in from a yard out. It was richly deserved for an excellent Mexican performance and really well worked.
The Croatians continued to battle and managed to get a goal back late on. Perisic got the ball on the left and played into Rakitic on the edge of the area. The Barcelona bound midfielder held it up before releasing Perisic with a backheel. The winger composed himself and slotted the ball across Ochoa and into the back of the net. It was nothing more than a consolation but a fitting end to a great tournament for Perisic.
However the game quickly went sour again for Croatia when they were reduced to ten men. Rebic went on another mazy run to the edge of the area where he overran the ball and Mexico sub Carlos Pena cleared. Rebic however challenged Pena with his foot high and caught him late and was deservedly shown a straight red.
Croatia kept trying to get back into the game with Ochoa denying Perisic in stoppage time but in all honesty it was all over for the Croatians who were eliminated by a side that were simply better drilled tactically and that were excellent throughout. Mexico finished second in Group A and will meet the Netherlands in the second round where they will give the Dutch real problems while Croatia head home despite impressing in defeat against Brazil and during that thumping victory over Cameroon.
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58), Pranjic (Jelavic 74), Rakitic, Perisic, Modric, Olic (Rebic 69), Mandzukic
Subs: Vukojevic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Sammir, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic
Mexico: Ochoa, Aguilar, Rodriguez, Marquez (c), Moreno, Layun, Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabian 84), dos Santos (Hernandez 62), Peralta (Pena 79)
Subs: Corona, Salcido, Reyes, Jimenez, Pulido, Talavera, Ponce, Brizuela, Aquino
Goal: Marquez, Guardado
Yellow: Marquez, Vazquez
MAN OF THE MATCH: ANDRES GUARDADO (MEXICO)