Mexico progress, but confidence in tatters after Swedish blitz

Bizarre scenes ensued as the final whistle blew to end Mexico’s clash with Sweden. In the stands, the majority Mexican crowd was cheering, having learned of Germany’s spectacular collapse against the South Koreans. On the pitch, the Mexican players huddled together, reeling from a shock 3-0 defeat and thinking their World Cup campaign was over despite starting their tournament with two wins. The Swedish were happily oblivious to the impromptu Mexican gathering that was taking place in the middle of the pitch, instead contenting themselves with celebrating the crushing victory which emphatically sealed their spot at the top of a volatile Group F. Eventually, relief washed over Mexico as they learned of Germany’s demise, but the scars of an unexpected and crushing defeat will remain as they head for the round of 16.

It didn’t start well for Mexico. Referee Néstor Pitana dispensed the fastest yellow card in World Cup history, with Mexican left-back Jesús Gallardo going in the book after less than 15 seconds. The resultant free-kick was headed across goal by Marcus Berg and was only just dealt with by the Mexican defence. Not long afterwards, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was penalised for handling the ball outside the box, and was forced to make a reflex save to deny Emil Forsberg’s free-kick. Berg and Andreas Granqvist combined to make Mexico very nervous as they got on the end of Ludwig Augustinsson’s corner, with Berg’s overhead kick only just missing the goal.

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Hirving Lozano (left) and Sebastian Larsson battle for the ball. Larsson was booked for the challenge, and a previous yellow card means that he will be suspended for Sweden’s round of 16 clash as a result.

Carlos Vela had a great chance at the other end when Sweden turned the ball over in a dangerous position, but he couldn’t quite test out the desperate dive of Robin Olsen with a shot that just flew wide. Mexico hadn’t quite weathered the storm, however. Forsberg had a brilliant opportunity when he got on the end of Mikael Lustig’s perfect cross, but he sent his shot flying over the bar.  Pitana checked for a potential handball in the box with the aid of technology, and Swedish coach Janne Andersson was fuming when the Argentinian referee determined that Javier Hernández had not committed an offence and no penalty was given. Ochoa was called into action almost immediately afterwards, tapping the ball over the bar from close range. Mexico started to get more opportunities, but the Swedish were still on top when the half time whistle blew.

The first goal came just after half time, with Augustinsson finding the back of the net after Berg’s cross bobbled around in the box. Viktor Claesson was in position to score when Berg rolled the ball in from the right, but he couldn’t hit his shot well enough and the ball looped up off his boot. As luck would have it, Augustinsson was perfectly positioned to take advantage of his teammates miscued shot, having pushed into the box from his normal defensive position. The left-back slammed it goalward, and it had too much force for Ochoa. The Mexican keeper got a touch, but he was never going to keep it out. Then, not long afterwards, centre-back Granqvist scored the second.

Héctor Moreno gave away the penalty which really put Mexico in trouble. Berg found some space to run into the box, and Moreno slid in from behind, took his legs out and conceded the penalty. Beads of sweat dripped down Granqvist’s forehead as he prepared to take the penalty, suggesting the Swedish captain was nervous. If he was, it didn’t affect his kick. The penalty was perfect, stroked above Ochoa’s dive and into the top corner. Sweden’s lead was doubled, and the Mexicans were in deep trouble. Juan Carlos Osorio threw attackers on, hoping against hope that his team could reduce the deficit, but they faced a determined Swedish defence who were ready to stop them at every turn. They only ended up going further behind.

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Guillermo Ochoa tries in vain to stop Andreas Granqvist’s excellent penalty. Ochoa did all he could, but the Mexican keeper couldn’t prevent the Swedish from turning their dominance into goals.

The third goal was a farce. Claesson heaved a long throw into the box, and the Mexicans panicked. Isaac Kiese Thelin managed to beat both Moreno and Carlos Salcedo in the air, and he flicked the ball towards the goalmouth. Ola Toivonen fought desperately to get a touch on the ball, but it eventually eluded his lunge and found its way to Edson Álvarez, who attempted a clearance. Somehow, Álvarez’s clearance never made it out of his own six-yard box. He muffed his attempted kick, and his poorly hit clearance ricocheted into his other leg and rolled into the back of his own net. There have been an unusually high number of own goals this tournament, but none have been quite so comical.

Mexico had chances as the game wound down, but they were struggling to get one goal, let alone three. Sweden’s defence was unyielding, and they held on to a clean sheet to cap off a near-perfect performance that will fill them with confidence heading into the knockout stages. For Mexico, their horror performance will have impacted their confidence going into the round of 16, and progress beyond that point suddenly seems a long way off.

Yekaterinburg – Central Stadium
Mexico 0
Sweden 3 (Augustinsson 50, Granqvist 62 pen, Álvarez 74 og)
Referee: Néstor Pitana (Arg)
Mexico (4-2-3-1): Ochoa – Álvarez, Salcedo, Moreno, Gallardo (Fabián 64); Guardado (J M Corona 75), Herrera; Layún (Peralta 89), Vela, Lozano; Hernández.
Sweden (4-4-2): Olsen – Lustig, Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson (Svensson 57), Ekdal (Hiljemark 80), Forsberg; Berg (Kiese Thelin 68), Toivonen.

Top 5
1. Andreas Granqvist (Sweden)
In terms of size, Granqvist was the biggest player on the pitch, and he seemed to tower above all others thanks to his sheer presence in the air. He was rarely, if ever, beaten in an aerial duel, he was always in good defensive positions and he even managed to score a penalty at the other end. A truly dominant defensive performance.
2. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Ochoa stood up once again for the Mexicans, making some truly brilliant saves to deny Sweden as they besieged the Mexican goal in the first half. He kept them in the game, but he couldn’t clear up all of their defensive errors and he really couldn’t have done much to stop the three goals.
3. Ludwig Augustinsson (Sweden)
Augustinsson scored a rare goal running forward from left-back, and his attacking raids were a handy addition to his typically solid defensive work. He put in some nice crosses, and put the Mexican defence under a bit of pressure on the overlap while staying in good positions when Mexico attacked.
4. Marcus Berg (Sweden)
Berg managed to play a key role with his aerial work in the box and his ability to get into good positions. He has been extraordinarily unlucky not to score in all of Sweden’s three games, and he won the penalty which all but sealed the win for the Swedes.
5. Viktor Claesson (Sweden)
Claesson did plenty of hard work on the right flank, and it was his poorly dealt with long throw which created Sweden’s third goal. He was energetic in attack and defence, and he was involved in most of Sweden’s play thanks to his desire to chase the ball.

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