Mexico has all but sealed its passage through to the second round of the World Cup in Russia after a 2-1 win today against South Korea in hot conditions in Rostov-on-Don.
Cancún-born Carlos Vela put El Tri in front in the 26th minute of the match with a penalty kick the team was awarded due to a South Korean handball.
Mexico’s most famous soccer export, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, added a second goal to El Tri’s scoresheet in the second half to ensure victory after a breakaway play by the first match’s goal scorer Hirving Lozano, who again impressed with his pace and skill.
The goal was Hernandez’s fourth at a World Cup, taking him to the same level as Luis Hernandez as Mexico’s most prolific goal scorer at the premier international soccer tournament.
South Korean forward Son Heung-min scored a scintillating consolation goal in injury time but it was too little too late for the East Asian nation, which now cannot qualify for the first knockout stage of the tournament.
From the beginning of the match, Mexico dominated its opponent and the team’s supporters — who easily outnumbered Korean fans — were in full voice chanting, “We are the home team.”
Given the noise Mexico’s fans created and the sea of green shirts visible in the stands of Rostov Arena, it almost felt as though the match was being played on Mexican soil.
With a 2-0 lead in the second half, El Tri faithful took to chanting “Profe Osorio” in support of the team’s Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who before the tournament had been heavily criticized by pundits and a football-loving public for his tactics and management of the national team.
Despite their overall boisterousness, Mexico’s fans didn’t use their usual controversial “eh, puto!” chant during goal kicks taken by the South Korean goalkeeper.
The Mexican Football Federation was slapped with a fine of 10,000 Swiss Francs (US $10,120) after fans shouted the homophobic taunt during the team’s 1-0 victory over Germany last Sunday.
After the match — as is usual — passionate soccer fans spilled into the streets all over the country to celebrate the victory, including Mexico City where the capital’s annual gay pride march is also being held today.
While Mexico hasn’t yet technically qualified for the last 16, if Sweden draws with or defeats Germany in the match currently under way in Sochi, its spot in the second round will be confirmed.
Even if Germany wins, it would still be extremely unlikely that El Tri would not qualify for the second round of the World Cup for the seventh consecutive time.
Given the form the team has shown so far this year in Russia, however, fans will no doubt be disappointed if Mexico doesn’t at least make it through to an elusive fifth match for the first time since the World Cup was last held in Mexico in 1986.
If Mexico’s qualification isn’t confirmed today, the national team will have the chance to determine its own fate in its third and final group match against Sweden in Ekaterinburg on Wednesday.