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Jun 23, 2014

Three Points: Mexico into the last 16

2014 FIFA World Cup Group A: Croatia 1-3 Mexico

Mexico have qualified for World Cup round of 16. Six months ago, no fan or critic would have predicted El Tri's surprising finish in the group stage.

A 3-1 win over Croatia on Monday solidified Mexico's impressive run in Brazil, one in which they conceded just one goal in three games.

Now, Miguel Herrera and his squad will have little time to celebrate, and must focus on their daunting task at hand, playing the Netherlands on Sunday (noon ET, ESPN). El Tri will need to look back on this performance not only as a win, but as another lesson that could help them attain success in the knockout stages.

Here are three takeaway points from Mexico against Croatia.

Rafa Marquez scored Mexico's opener against Croatia.

1. The significance of veterans

To add to the list of surprises, who would have guessed that Rafael Marquez and Andres Guardado would be the ones to score Mexico's first two goals?

Marquez was excellent on defense and has shown to be much more of an influence than many critics thought he would be. Granted, he did commit an unnecessary foul in the first half, but Marquez was able to completely compensate by scoring Mexico's first goal.

Guardado also has been massively important for Mexico and has become one of the better players this World Cup for El Tri. The midfielder created most of Mexico's attacking plays and added a crucial goal for Mexico to his impressive World Cup résumé. Herrera will be sure to again rely on these two veterans, who have more than 200 international caps combined.

2. Javier Hernandez's goal drought has ended

The previous time Javier Hernandez scored for Mexico was literally a year and a day ago in the Confederations Cup. Today, Hernandez was Mexico's catalyst in the final third and was able to not only score the third goal, but also help create the second.

CroatiaCroatia
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Match 34
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An enormous sigh of relief almost emanated from the television screen moments after Hernandez scored. Now a huge question remains: Will Herrera start Hernandez against the Netherlands? The striker gave a beautiful performance Monday, but has been inconsistent for an extended amount of time for El Tri. Giovani dos Santos has worked tirelessly in this tournament but has had little to show for it when it comes to goals and assists.

Then again, would I be having this conversation had his goals been allowed in the first game?

3. Lineup changes against the Netherlands

Jose Juan Vazquez's second yellow might prove to be detrimental to the Mexican midfield. Vazquez has become a small but reliable rock defensively and has also been impeccable with his passing game. The coach will now look to either Hector Herrera or Carlos Salcido as possible substitutes as a defensive midfielder.

Another change that might be considered is placing Miguel Layun on the bench. Layun was set to be one of Mexico's breakout stars but has been too quiet on the field this World Cup. Layun is a much better option than substitute Miguel Ponce, but it must be tempting for Herrera to consider Ponce after Layun's three dismal matches.

Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez can't remember a time when soccer hasn't been a part of his daily routine. Within that personal immersion of fĂștbol is a lifelong passion for the Mexican national team. He has blogged on El Tri for four years mainly through his blog The Big Verde. Follow him on Twitter @cesarh1030.