After the first two matches for each team in Group A at the 2014 World Cup very little had been decided. Mexico and Brazil were in the group lead with four points and Croatia was one behind with three. So the final group match between Mexico and Croatia in Recife became vital for both teams. A draw would see Mexico go through to the knockout stages, but that did not stop them from attacking and beating Croatia 3-1 with a second half attacking barrage.
Both teams certainly knew what was on the line in this match as Mexico and Croatia both came out strong in the first half. Mexico controlled the pace for most of the first half with the Europeans not getting on the counter-attack as effectively as they would have liked. El Tri did a great job of controlling the pace and creating chances just as they had done in each of their previous matches. Their best chance came off of a long-range effort from midfielder Hector Herrera that smashed off of the crossbar. The teams went into the dressing room at the half tied at 0-0 knowing the second half would decide their fates.
Knowing that they needed a win in this match, the Croatians came into the second half much more aggressively trying to create the goal that could send them through. Mexico knew that a draw would see them through to the knockout stage, but that did not stop them from attacking early in the second half, even with the score at 0-0. As much as the European side tried to get on the counter Mexico seemed to always be in the right place to stop them. As the second half wore on, the tension in the stadium grew, as it remained scoreless and the fans could see that Brazil was beating Cameroon comfortably, meaning both of these teams were fighting for second place in the group. Soon after Mexico introduced Chicharito to try and get a winner, they nearly had one as a broken cross fell to Guardado and his shot was turned away by the hand of a Croatian defender, but the clear handball call was not given.
The further the match got into the second half, the more it looked as if Mexico would be the team finding a winning goal as they continued to create good goal scoring chances. The only chances that Croatia could find were small windows on the counter attack every so often, as El Tri was able to dominate possession and control the matches pace. Mexico were finally able to break through and find a goal in the 72nd minute when a corner was headed in by Captain Rafa Marquez. It was a well-deserved goal as they had been creating chance after chance in the second half.
After the Mexico goal the situation grew critical for Croatia, as they had to score two goals because to move through they had to win this match. Their next chance was a great one with a low cross going right in front of net with none of their attackers able to get on the end. The need to attack left Croatia very exposed in defense, and it showed in the 75th minute when Mexico were able to add a second goal to double their lead. Chicharito was able to find a ton of space and instead of having a long range shot he wisely laid it off down the right flank for Peralta, whose cross found Guardado who put it away. Croatia became shell-shocked and the North Americans were able to keep pouring it on when a corner was flicked back onto the head of Chicharito who put in his team’s third. The Europeans were able to grab a consolation goal in the 87th minute, when Ivan Perisic got a great back heel pass that he finished very well with his left foot. The ref added insult to injury right near the end of the match when he sent off Ante Rebic for a rash tackle, but at that point the match was already lost for Croatia.
Brazil beating Cameroon meant that they won Group A because they had a higher goal differential than Mexico, who they were tied with on points with seven after all the group matches were finished. Mexico’s win means they will move onto face the Netherlands in the first round of the knockout stage.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius