World Cup: Carlos Vela spot on as Mexico advance to last-16

Carlos Vela of Mexico celebrates after converting a penalty during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group F preliminary round soccer match between South Korea and Mexico on June 23, 2018.
Carlos Vela of Mexico celebrates after converting a penalty during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group F preliminary round soccer match between South Korea and Mexico on June 23, 2018.PHOTO: EPA

GROUP F


South Korea 1

Mexico 2


They have not reached the quarter-finals since 1986, they have not gone past the first knockout round in six tournaments since, but Mexico might finally have a team that can challenge for the World Cup.

Victors over Germany last week, they secured their place in the second round yesterday with a 2-1 victory over South Korea in Rostov. Confidence is growing.

If only the same could be said for the Asians. Just as in 2014, they have crashed out at the first hurdle. Beaten by a Swedish penalty at the start of the week, they went behind to a Mexican penalty here and, given that they face Germany in their final game, there is every chance that they will leave Russia without a single point.

Shin Tae Yong's side started poorly, enjoyed a brief spell of pressure, but were knocked back on their heels when Carlos Vela converted his spot kick midway through the first half. Javier Hernandez added a second after the break.

Son Heung Min, the star of this side, hit a glorious consolation goal in injury time, but while the steady stream of fouls suggested that there was no lack of fight from his colleagues, there was certainly a lack of ability. Facing the incisive, intelligent movement of this breathtaking Mexico side, South Korea simply had no answer.

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio has not been universally appreciated in his own country, but that may change if he keeps producing performances like this.

Mexico do have vulnerabilities - they can be caught on the counter-attack - but when they do so themselves, as Germany discovered, they can be unstoppable.

Vela was brilliant behind Hernandez, but there was ample support elsewhere from Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera and the exciting Hirving Lozano.

The 22-year-old forward impressed again, but not always as expected. For much of the first half, Lozano was more critical in defence than attack, powering back to nullify Korean sorties and taking an almighty hit in one heroic bid to stop Moon Seon Min from scoring. He is a warrior.

And when Mexico needed a second-goal cushion, he was there to provide, picking up the ball in his own half, charging up the pitch and releasing Hernandez.

With his left foot, the West Ham striker dragged the ball around the onrushing Jang Hyon Soo. With his right foot, he struck his 50th goal for his country.

"It's time for Mexico to show that we can take the initiative," said Osorio before the match. Mission accomplished. They will take some stopping.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline 'Vela spot on as Mexicans celebrate'. Print Edition | Subscribe