Croatia vs. Mexico: Herrera's Tactical Switch Eliminates Vatreni from World Cup

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 23, 2014

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Mexico secured passage to the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup 2014 with a 3-1 win over Croatia in Group A.

A goalless, cagey first half gave way to a frantic second, with El Tri netting three times in 10 minutes to flummox Niko Kovac's men.


Starting XIs and Formations


Croatia started off in a 4-1-4-1-esque shape. Ivan Rakitic sat clearly between the lines in the deepest midfield role, Luka Modric partnered Danijel Pranjic further forward and Sime Vrsaljko slotted in at left-back.

Mexico played their usual 3-5-2 system and made no changes for the second game running.


Defensive Mexico?!

El Tri attacked Cameroon relentlessly in their opener, pinning them back, scoring once and seeing two others wrongfully disallowed.

They also went for the jugular against Brazil, stringing together swift, linear attacks and driving at the heart of the side. They were good value for the draw and could have won all three points.

To see them defend stoutly for 60 minutes, then, was very surprising. Per Paul Wilson of The Guardian, Miguel Herrera told reporters before the game that his side would come out and attack, as sitting back and soaking up the pressure wasn't playing to their strengths.

Their 3-5-2 became a 5-3-2 quickly, with three centre-backs spanning the width of the penalty box and the wing-backs tucking in alongside. It was impossible to get around the formation, and that nullified Croatia's greatest strength.

Modric was largely nullified by Mexico's disciplined midfield.


On the Other Hand...

After 60 minutes of careful football, they began committing to more attacks, sending more men forward and taking advantage of some fatigued Croatian legs.

The wing-backs became more expansive, Andres Guardado began buccaneering forward more often and the defensive line shifted up a little.

Croatia may have failed to get around Mexico's setup and find space in behind the defence, but Mexico had no issue getting behind theirs. Javier Hernandez was brought on to provide more pace, quickness and directness, and Kovac's back line began to wilt.

The goal, sourced from Rafa Marquez via a corner, was a just reward for their late pressure. The second and third iced the cake, confirming that Herrera's side were physically and tactically superior over the course of 90 minutes.


Plan B?

Croatia will be disappointed that their "Plan B," of sorts, didn't come up big when needed the most.

Mario Mandzukic is a fantastic target man who links play superbly, but when the going gets tough he's been known to shoulder the side and rake in long balls to move his side forward.

His passing charts for the game were exceptionally disappointing: His teammates failed to find him, he failed to shake off Mexico's centre-backs and he was criminally deep at key moments.

His 50 percent success rate in aerial duels and near-anonymous effort in the passing game sting the most.



Croatia bow out earlier than many expected, but Mexico were full value for their victory and deserve to go and play the Netherlands in the knockout stage.

Herrera and his men are a fantastic watch and are very efficient on the pitch. It will be interesting to see how they re-adjust without the now-suspended Juan Vazquez.