Mexico lose vs. Sweden but still advance to last 16 amid Group F drama
YEKATERINBURG, Russia -- Mexico fell 3-0 to Sweden on Wednesday as both teams went through to the round of 16 of the World Cup.
Here are three takes from an epic evening of World Cup action.
1. Mexico get thrashed by Sweden, still reach last 16
Toni Kroos' late goal on Saturday to secure a 2-1 win for Germany against Sweden hung over this match. Mexico would have already booked their place in the round of 16 without it. As it was, El Tri needed a point against Sweden to guarantee qualification.
That ultimately didn't happen, and things got very complicated and nervous for Mexico inside Yekaterinburg Arena midway through the second half. Once Sweden went 2-0 up in the 62nd minute, Mexico's chances of getting the draw looked to be over, and all eyes and ears turned to the South Korea-Germany game.
"Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans always win" is Gary Lineker's famous remark about the world champions. Not this time. As Edson Alvarez, who scored an own goal for Mexico to put El Tri 3-0 down, cried in the middle of the pitch, news filtered in that Germany had lost 2-0 to South Korea, placing Mexico second in Group F and moving them through to the round of 16 for the seventh consecutive time.
El Tri were roundly beaten in Yekaterinburg and was a shadow of the side that secured a surprising 1-0 win over Germany in its Group F opener. But this was a heart-stopping finish. Mexico fans began to shout "Korea, Korea," and the Asian team responded, netting twice in second-half injury time to defeat the defending champions and send Mexico through in the process.
On the one hand, Mexico came into Wednesday's game on six points and had impressed in Russia. No team has ever failed to advance from the group stage with six points in the modern format of the competition. But the second half against Sweden was a disaster, although the Swedes merit praise for their systematic approach and spirit after the devastation of that Kroos goal.
The world champions are out of Russia 2018, while Sweden and Mexico advance from Group F. This World Cup continues to surprise and excite.
2. Deserved win for Sweden as Mexico implode
It's clear by the result and the respective performances that Sweden deserved their emphatic win on Wednesday. This was a clash of styles and the strong, physical and direct Sweden proved too much for El Tri, who played the more attractive football but were fairly beaten.
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa punched away a fiercely driven Emil Forsberg free kick in the fifth minute and made a trademark, close-range save from Marcus Berg in the 31st minute, tipping the ball over the bar in acrobatic fashion. But Ochoa's clean sheet at half-time was aided by a couple of misses by the Swedish strikers. Forsberg should have scored in the 18th and went through on goal again in first-half injury time, thrashing the ball into the side netting.
Sweden's breakthrough eventually came in the 50th minute, when Ludwig Augustinsson found himself free on the left side of the penalty area. He finished past Ochoa, but the real question was just how Augustinsson had been left so open, with Alvarez and Andres Guardado nowhere near the Swedish left-back.
Sweden's second came from the penalty spot 12 minutes later. Hector Moreno slid in prematurely on Berg, and Andreas Granqvist converted the spot kick.
When things have gone wrong for Mexico in previous matches, the specter of the 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario two years ago raises its head, and that was the case again here.
Mexico simply lacked composure when it went behind, not for the first time. They'll need to do better in their last-16 game.
3. Era penal?
The talking point of the first half was the video assistant referee call that fell in Mexico's favor. Less than 24 hours after Marcos Rojo's handball incident in Argentina's win against Nigeria, there was another controversial decision.
Argentine ref Nestor Pitana went to the VAR when Javier Hernandez appeared to throw out his right arm as he was clearing a cross floated in from the right. The Sweden bench all went up, and the players demanded that the ref check the replay. Pitana made the signal, went over to the sideline, yet with Sweden expecting a penalty, it wasn't given.
It was a difficult decision. Did Pitana get it right? On the one hand, there didn't seem to be clear evidence that the ball came off Hernandez's arm and not his chest. His arm was tucked in, too, though his arm did motion toward the ball.
What is certain is that Sweden felt hard-done-by, especially as it could have changed the whole narrative of the game. Their three goals after the break thankfully meant it was rendered moot in the final Group F standings.
However, the wider debate should perhaps be less about the use of VAR and more about what actually constitutes a handball in the modern game. Incidents like that of Rojo and Hernandez have shown that opinions differ widely despite the assistance of technology.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.