In the space of 10 minutes, the World Cup fortunes of Mexico changed for the better and Croatia suffered for it.
As time ticked away in Monday’s Group A stage game, neither team scored a goal and an already suspenseful soccer contest got more nail-biting. Then came Rafael Marquez and the goal that opened the floodgates for Mexico. His score, in the 72nd minute of the game, enabled Mexico to pull ahead, and Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez added later goals in the 75th and 82nd minute, respectively.
The end result was a 3-1 win and a tie atop the standings for Mexico and Brazil. The Brazilians win the tiebreaker because they had a plus-5 difference in scoring and the Mexicans had a plus-3.
So the hosts get Chile in a matchup that should ignite the passions of South American soccer fans everywhere, and Mexico will face Netherlands, the first-place winner out of Group B. It also continues a long streak of success for Mexico, which has qualified for the knockout round in every tournament since 1994.
Croatia’s loss should not discount how the team played. Although the country hasn’t qualified for a knockout round since its third-place finish in 1998, Croatia took Mexico through one half of scoreless soccer and over 50 percent of the second half. That alone is worth some praise, but Mexico proved to be just too tough in the end.
Croatia had the ball a bit more than Mexico did. Croatia possessed the ball 55 percent of the time, and Mexico had it only 45 percent. Possession is a huge part of soccer. It may be a simplistic thing to say, but you can’t score if you don’t have the ball. Despite leading in time of possession, Croatia will now home to prepare for 2018. Meanwhile, Mexico will have a few days to regroup and prepare for what should be a solid contest against Netherlands.
To find the last time Netherlands and Mexico squared off in a World Cup game, you have to go all the way back to 1998, when the two teams were in the same group. The end result was a 2-2 tie in the teams’ face-to-face meeting. The two teams made it out of their group, and Netherlands went all the way to the third-place game while Mexico lost in the round of 16.
Netherlands could have the upper hand when these teams meet. It outscored pool opponents 10-3 while Mexico mustered just a 4-1 advantage in its contests. With Robin Van Persie (three goals), Arjen Robben (three goals) and Memphis Depay (two goals) leading Dutch offense, Mexico could have trouble defending against three top scorers. Not only that, but the Netherlands have a 26-9 advantage against Mexico in terms of attempts on target.
The way this World Cup is gone, a Netherlands victory is not a foregone conclusion. It should still be a fun game. At least Mexico made it, as the team’s fans can now say. Let the fun begin.