Son Heung-min received the ball on the edge of the box in the dying moments of South Korea’s clash against Mexico. Very little had happened since Mexico took a two-goal lead midway through the second half, and the intensity had since disappeared from the contest as both sides went through the motions. Son readied himself to try a shot at the Mexican goal with his lethal left boot. There wasn’t much reason to think South Korea’s star would be successful, having failed to score with eight previous shots, many in better positions than this one. This shot, however, was perfect. Guillermo Ochoa had previously been unbeatable in goal, but this time he had no chance as Son curled the ball past his desperate full-length dive and into the back of the net. Two minutes still remained, and Son’s goal ensured Mexico were set for a nervous finish. Their experience kicked in, and they ran down the little time remaining with no real fuss. For South Korea, it was too little, too late.
Mexico controlled possession early, but they couldn’t find too many chances against a well-organised South Korean defence who were willing to play physical. Hirving Lozano, the goal-scorer in Mexico’s upset win over Germany, came in for particularly rough treatment from right-back Lee Yong, suffering a number of fouls in the opening minutes. It was South Korea, however, who had the better opportunities on the break. Lozano saved Mexico’s blushes when Moon Seon-min and Hwang Hee-chan combined to cross the ball dangerously for Lee Yong, getting in the way of Lee’s murderous swing of the boot to ensure the right-back never connected with the ball. As the game went on, South Korea started to get more chances on the break. Son came particularly close to scoring, with Carlos Salcedo getting back to block the shot and Héctor Moreno blocking the follow-up effort. Son’s third shot in the space of seconds was deflected out for a corner, and when Ki Sung-yueng’s well-placed header was tapped over the bar by Ochoa it looked like the Mexicans were under a bit of pressure. Then Mexico scored.Embed from Getty Images
Son Heung-min looks on after the final whistle. Son had a big game, taking nine shots and netting a late goal, but it wasn’t enough to get South Korea over the line.
It started with a counter-attack. Mexico’s swift counter-attacks had torn the German defence to shreds in their opening match, but their control over possession and territory had deprived them of the chance to hit South Korea on the break. Now, with South Korea committed to the attack, the Mexicans struck. Kim Min-woo’s error allowed Miguel Layún to collect the ball in acres of space, but his ball across goal was too far away from a sliding Lozano for the left-winger to convert. If South Korea thought that was the end of the danger, however, they were wrong. The previously organised Korean defence was still out of shape when, seconds later, Andrés Guardado’s cross struck centre-back Jang Hyun-soo flush on the arm and Milorad Mažić pointed to the spot. Cho Hyun-woo did his best to draw an error, delaying the taking of the penalty and jumping around as Carlos Vela approached the ball, but Vela made no mistake.
There were few other chances as the half drew to a close, with Layún and Lozano getting into great positions but failing to hit the target and Ochoa coming off his line well to deny Son as he got in behind the Mexican defence. Then, in the second half, Mexico began to find more space, and the chances began to flow more freely. Lozano and Javier Hernández took on (and missed) shots from distance. Guardado found space just inside the box, and forced Cho Hyun-woo into a full-length dive to deny his left-footed strike. Lozano managed to slip in behind once again, but he was denied by Ki’s sliding block. Vela’s shot came perilously close to the top corner, but just missed. Then, with Korea throwing players forward to try and erase the deficit, Mexico struck again.Embed from Getty Images
Javier Hernández (left) beats Jang Hyun-soo before scoring Mexico’s second goal. The goal gave Mexico a seemingly unassailable lead, although they were challenged when Son Heung-min scored late.
Héctor Herrera started the break by dispossessing Ki, and eventually the ball found Lozano with Mexico’s defence in tatters. Lozano charged down the middle with options on either side, and he eventually chose to pass to the open Hernández on the left. The striker took one touch, watched as Jang slid harmlessly past him in an attempt to block a shot that hadn’t yet come, and slotted it effortlessly past the helpless Cho. Mexico had a two-goal buffer, South Korea were beginning to draw the ire of Mažić with their aggressive challenges, and the game seemed all but over.
Before Son’s very late consolation goal, there was little to suggest that Mexico’s lead would be seriously challenged. A poor back-pass from Rafael Márquez, Mexico’s veteran of five World Cups, put Ochoa under plenty of pressure, but some desperate Mexican defence denied South Korea’s equally desperate attack and the chance fizzled out. It didn’t look like the Taeguk Warriors would receive a better opportunity, and aside from Son’s goal the Mexicans closed the match out comfortably. The win all but seals their passage to the knockout stages, and they will be a dangerous opponent going forward.
Rostov-on-Don – Rostov Arena
South Korea 1 (H M Son 90+3)
Mexico 2 (Vela 26 pen, Hernández 66)
Referee: Milorad Mažić (Srb)
South Korea (4-4-2): H W Cho – Y Lee, H S Jang, Y G Kim, M W Kim (C Hong 84); S M Moon (W Y Jung 77), S J Ju (S W Lee 64), S Y Ki, H C Hwang; J S Lee, H M Son.
Mexico (4-3-3): Ochoa – Álvarez, Salcedo, Moreno, Gallardo; Layún, Herrera, Guardado (Márquez 68); Vela (G dos Santos 77), Hernández, Lozano (J M Corona 71).
1. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
Lozano had a rough time of it as the victim of many Korean fouls, but he still managed to have an impact when he had room to move on the break. He picked up an assist with a well thought-out ball for Hernández, and managed to find space to shoot on a number of occasions. If his shooting had been on song he could have had a big day.
2. Son Heung-min (South Korea)
Son worked very hard all day, and his late goal was a good reward for his efforts. He looked more dangerous playing in a central role, and he created plenty of problems slipping in behind the Mexican defence. He finished the game with nine shots, and on another day he could have scored more than he did.
3. Javier Hernández (Mexico)
Hernández finished with a goal in a strong attacking performance, and he worked hard up front all day. He was always a threat when Mexico found space on the break, and he showed a good turn of pace which allowed him to combine very potently with Lozano, Vela and Layún.
4. Carlos Vela (Mexico)
Vela was in top form in the upset win over Germany, and his form didn’t drop off in Mexico’s second game. His combination with Mexico’s attackers was as dangerous as ever, and he managed to get himself the opening goal of the match with a very well-taken penalty.
5. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Ochoa continued his brilliant form against the South Koreans, coming tantalisingly close to picking up his second clean sheet of the tournament and looking very solid whenever the ball came his way. He made some good saves, and provided the Mexicans with plenty of confidence with his assured performance.