Croatia vs. Mexico: 6 Things We Learned
Mexico defeated Croatia with goals from Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez, proving that they have what it takes to keep going in the tournament.
The defense worked great in set pieces, which cleared one of the biggest doubts. Marquez, Hector Moreno and Francisco Rodriguez made it difficult for the Europeans to take advantage of their height.
Despite advancing to the round of 16, El Tri lost Jose Juan Vazquez for the game against Netherlands because he received his second yellow card of the tournament.
This will be the sixth successive time Mexico reach the knockout stage.
Here's what we learned from the clash.
Counter-Attacks Can Hurt El Tri Badly
Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar are taking too long to go back to their defensive duties; this situation puts the centre-backs in distress.
The back-wingers are key in Miguel Herrera's 5-3-2 system, which transforms into a 3-5-2 when Layun and Aguilar run all the way to the goal line to feed balls from the flanks.
Croatia showed that El Tri is weak when they have to defend after attacking. The European's first goal came in a counter-attack.
Herrera has solved the problems with the set pieces, but he must find a way to keep pushing from the flanks without conceding too much territory in that area.
Miguel Herrera Is Quite the Motivator
Miguel Herrera took over the team in one of its darkest periods. El Tri had to qualify for the World Cup through a two-legged playoff against New Zealand due to terrible performances in the Hexagonal.
Now, El Piojo has given the team a new face. The squad is united, confident and convincing. It has been a long time since Mexico played like they are right now.
El Tri are fluid. They have verticality and dynamism. Herrera put together one of the strongest and more successful Mexican sides we have ever seen in a World Cup.
Rafael Marquez Is Very Important for Mexico
Mexico had only scored one goal in the group stage, and it from the boots of fan-favorite Oribe Peralta.
However, the lack of power in the attacking zone was a serious concern ahead of the Croatia clash, because their win-or-die situation would push them to score early in the match.
Both Peralta and Giovani dos Santos had a couple of clear options, nevertheless none of the Mexican forwards managed to make an impact in the score. Instead, Captain Rafael Marquez displayed his aerial game in set pieces, and he netted the first of the match.
Marquez can defend, attack and lead his teammates with the same success. He is a key player and he makes a big difference on the pitch.
Ivan Rakitic Was the Best Croatian of the Match
Croatia tried and pushed hard to figure out Mexico’s play, but they failed to do so.
Despite the 3-1 loss, Ivan Rakitic was Croatia's best player. His mobility and intelligence were key in the Blazers' attack.
According to Squawka.com, Rakitic completed 88 percent of the passes he sent, he created three out of the team's seven goal opportunities and made three interceptions.
Meanwhile, FIFA.com reported that the newest Barcelona signing recovered eight balls, had a top speed of 26.6 km/h and covered 10,732 meters.
Niko Kovac Underestimated Mexico
If there is something we have learned throughout Mexico's World Cup process, it is that they play hard. They also adjust their game depending on the rival.
Against Cameroon, Mexico was very superior and pushed forward; with Brazil they kept the ball as much as possible and left the host unbalanced through the flanks.
In the third matchday of Group A, they pushed the Blazers’ lines and neutralized the aerial game with good work and unity in set pieces. The Croatians were clearly taller than the Mexicans, and still Herrera managed to hold them off.
Kovac's side didn't bring much to the pitch. They were not as creative as expected—mainly because Luka Modric couldn't make a difference.
The Real Madrid midfielder lost all of the aerial duels in which he was involved, and he recovered only one ball. In addition, he put three crosses inside the box, and two of them were incomplete, according to Squawka.com.
The Goals Are There
The last time Mexico scored three goals in an official match was against New Zealand in the two-legged playoff that secured them a ticket to Brazil.
After that they bagged four against South Korea, three with Israel and three more with Ecuador. These were all warm-ups though.
The one responsible for opening the floodgate was Rafael Marquez. Then came a powerful shot from Andres Guardado, and finally Javier Hernandez sealed the deal with a header.
Chicharito had not scored with El Tri in a year. The last time he put the ball away was at the Confederations Cup, against Japan in the last match of the group stage, on June 22, 2013.
Mexico needed to score, and these three couldn't have come at a better time.