Mexico took a big step towards reaching the Round of 16 as they beat South Korea 2-1 at Rostov Arena on Saturday. But, who were the three players who shined on the day?
South Korea were much improved than in their 1-0 loss to Sweden, looking much more composed at the back while posing a bigger threat in the final third. But, it was Mexico who would go on to grab the lead, having created the better chances until the 26th minute when Carlos Vela calmly slotted a penalty home after Jang Hyun-soo handled the ball.
The two sides created plenty of chances in the second half as well, although a similar pattern ensued when Mexico doubled their advantage midway through the period through Javier Hernandez. But, there was time for one more goal as Son Heung-min finally broke his duck with the goal of the game from 25 yards out. The Hard Tackle now picks out three players who shined the most.
Hirving Lozano’s performance against Mexico was so eye catching that the contribution of Carlos Vela almost went unnoticed. The former Arsenal man was, in fact, nothing short of a revelation in a central role, having been given the freedom to be the orchestrator for El Tri in the final third.
The opening game provided indication enough that Vela was going to be the player who will be a big part of most of Mexico’s chance creation in the tournament, and it was more of the same on Saturday, finding teammates in pockets of spaces to create the bulk of the opportunities.
Vela also showed the willingness to drop deep and do some defensive work whenever South Korea were in the ascendancy. His fantastic outing was capped off with a goal, the first in the game when he showed nerves of steel to slot the penalty past Cho Hyun-woo, who had played mind games aplenty before the former Arsenal player finally found the back of the net.
After a disappointing outing against Sweden, there was a look of determination on the face of Son Heung-min as he looked to make amends against Mexico. The Tottenham superstar was the biggest threat for South Korea on the day, with his change of pacy coming in handy.
The sturdy Mexican defence though, blocked off most of his efforts on goals, but Son was dogged in his belief on Saturday and never stopped trying to find the first goal of this World Cup for South Korea. When the moment finally came, it was unsurprisingly the 25-year-old who had broken the duck, and what a strike it was.
As the match was reaching its end, Son unleashed a fierce, curling effort from 25 yards out that even Guillermo Ochoa had no answer to. From no shots at all against Sweden to nine shots against Mexico, it was clearly a major improvement from the determined Son, and he got his deserved reward in the end.
Hirving Lozano was again the pocket dynamite who carried the biggest threat for Mexico on the day while also being brave defensively. Hector Herrera kept things organised in the middle and was the silent work horse for El Tri. In fact, Javier Hernandez wasn’t even among the three best players for Mexico.
In fact, the shot that brought up his goal was a scuffed one too. But, it was a momentous day for the former Manchester United striker as he extended his goalscoring record for the national side to complete a half century of goals in international football.
This was a goal that he had been searching for for a long time, and with a huge burden off his shoulders, we could see Chicharito well and truly unleashed in the games to come.