Croatia 1 Mexico 3: Three talking points
Croatia 1 Mexico 3: Three talking points as three goals in 10 second-half minutes see Miguel Herrera's side into the last 16
Miguel Herrera outwits Niko Kovac
When one watches the Mexico boss on the touchline, he could easily be mistaken for a joke figure, but the way he has set his side up in this tournament has proven him to be anything but. This game was arguably a bigger tactical victory than against Brazil. Herrera’s side executed his plan to perfection. They played solidly in the first half, striving to prevent easy chances falling to Croatia and took few risks in possession. Then, as the Croats pushed men forward in search of victory in the second half, they struck. Herrera unleashed the pace of Javier Hernandez from the bench to devastating effect and him together with the tireless and tenacious Mexican midfielders and wing-backs combined to produce three goals in 10 minutes that tore Croatian hopes apart. The way Herrera deployed his three central defenders and midfielders to stop opposition dangermen, Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric, worked a treat.
Mexico’s well-drilled defence
With the help of Guillermo Ochoa’s agility they subdued Brazil, but it is not just the Mexicans’ curly-headed goalkeeper who is difficult to beat. Centre-backs Hector Moreno and Francisco Rodriguez, marshalled imperiously by Rafael Marquez displayed ceaseless understanding in ensuring Mario Mandzukic was kept quiet. The three defenders also enable Mexico to play out from the back with conviction as they created angles to play simple passes so possession was not surrendered cheaply and this proved crucial in ensuring Croatia were not able to find their stride. Meanwhile, wing-backs Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun restrained their forward-thinking instincts initially to ensure Croatian runners down the flanks were denied the space they craved in order to provide service to Mandzukic from wide areas.
Tricolor trio win midfield battle
Croatia moved Luka Modric into the ‘number 10’ role and Danijel Pranjic from full-back to play alongside Ivan Rakitic, but the three Croatians failed to match the intensity of the Mexican midfield. Jose Vazquez, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera, whose early shot that rattled the crossbar lifted his side after a sluggish start, pressed and probed the three players wearing chequered shirts preventing them from finding the sort of freedom around the pitch they needed to have a more telling impact on proceedings. The Mexican trio were also efficient on the ball and frequently looked to help spring breakaway moves after turnovers in possession.