Chicharito Hernandez finally registered his milestone 50th international goal and Carlos Vela had a first-half penalty as Mexico moved within one point of reaching the round of 16 for the seventh consecutive World Cup with a 2-1 victory over South Korea on Saturday in Group F at Rostov-on-Don.
Hirving Lozano, who scored the goal Hernandez set up in Mexico’s 1-0 upset of reigning champion Germany on Sunday to open group play, returned the favor to the West Ham striker on 66 minutes in a goal that was nearly identical in style.
Lozano carried the ball through the midfield as Mexico broke out 3-on-2. He slid a pass left to Hernandez in the penalty area, where he patiently waited and cut inside sliding defender Hyun-Soo Jang before beating South Korea keeper Hyeon-Woo Jo to make it 2-0.
Heung-Min Son pulled one back with a world-class strike shortly before the final whistle, but it was not enough to prevent the Taegeuk Warriors from being eliminated in group play for the third time in their last four World Cup appearances.
El Tri led Group F on the maximum six points through two matches, but with Germany’s late rally to defeat Sweden later Saturday, they need a draw in their final match versus Sweden to secure a spot in the round of 16. Mexico has a plus-two goal differential while Sweden and Germany are even, which means a two-goal loss to Sweden coupled with a Germany victory over South Korea would dump El Tri out of the World Cup.
The game was played in sweltering conditions in Rostov-on-Don, where it had reached 40 degrees Celsius earlier in the day. The teams were physical from the outset, trading fouls and testing referee Milorad Mazic’s willingness to keep his cards in his pocket.
Lozano asborbed a volley attempted by Jae-Sung Lee in his midsection in the 13th minute, and Son found space between Mexico’s central defenders in the 21st, but Carlos Salcedo blocked a pair of efforts before a third attempt resulted in a corner that failed to threaten.
In the 24th minute, Hernandez played a through ball into the left channel for Andres Guardado, whose cross was turned into an obvious handball by Jang as he slid to cut out the ball. Mazic did not need a confirmation from VAR as he pointed to the spot, and Vela was clinical in his finish, sending into the right side of the net as Jo dove in the opposite direction.
Vela should have done better on the half-hour when Miguel Layun laid the ball off, he skied over the bar. South Korea’s first quality chance came in the 39th minute as Son outraced Mexico’s defense to chase down a long ball from Seon-Min Moon, but Ochoa came off his line to make sure the Spurs forward could not get a shot off.
After the restart, both Lozano and Hernandez blazed over the bar, and South Korea had a penalty shout when Moon’s shot hit Salcedo’s arm, but it was at his side and Mazic turned it down. Sung-Yueng Ki forced a smart save from Ochoa in the 56th minute, and Jo also proved equal to the task four minutes later, parrying a shot from 15 yards by Guardado angling for the upper left corner.
After Hernandez’s goal which made him the first Mexico player to reach 50 goals, coach Juan Carlos Osorio brought on Rafa Marquez and Jesus Corona in the 68th and 71st minutes, respectively. Marquez, though, inadvertently put Son through with a woeful back pass, but Ochoa saved his blushes by successfully challenging the South Korea forward when he tried to round the keeper.
Son, though, would finally find that breakthrough, though it was too little, too late. He uncorked a left-footed shot from 25 yards that curled just inside the left post and past a diving Ochoa in the 93rd minute.
It was also the fourth World Cup goal for Hernandez, tying him with Luis Hernandez for the most in Mexico history. He also became the third El Tri player to score in three different World Cups.
South Korea ended up committing 24 fouls and had four players booked. All of them, however, will be available for the final match against Germany since none of them had picked one up previously.