I did my best to avoid all scores today so that I could get home and watch two games, but alas, right as I was about to leave camp, I heard the Netherlands-Chile score. I’ll have to read up on that game later, because I am quite impressed with the Dutch maintaining a clean sheet. However, I did manage to get home without hearing about the Mexico-Croatia game, so I was able to watch all 90 minutes of that entertaining game. Not finding out scores going forward is going to be extremely difficult.
Mexico were certainly the deserving winners today against Croatia. Miguel Herrera’s coaching has been spot on since he took over, and his magical touch has seen the Mexicans go from nearly out of the World Cup to the round of 16. But let’s not forget that Mexico wouldn’t be in Brazil without the USA and Graham Zusi scoring a late winner that gave Mexico the final spot over Panama. They owe us big time.
As I said last week, the Mexico I saw play Portugal in their final pre-World Cup friendly in Boston has transformed into an attacking menace. The new batch of midfielders have been tremendous, especially Hector Herrera. His movement has been excellent and he was unlucky not to score today. But Mexico also has had players stepping up their games everywhere on the pitch – from Ochoa in the back to Dos Santos up front. Everyone has been committed completely to the cause they looked so disinterested in last fall.
It was nice to Javier Hernandez score his late goal, as I thought this particular substitute appearance opened Croatia up for slaughter. Without him, Mexico had been dangerously defensive at times in the second half, and sitting back completely could have led to a disaster. Only needing a draw, Mexico could have sat back from the start, but Herrera’s decision to play on the front foot in the first half should have produced a goal. His positive tactics from the start were refreshing to watch.
Croatia’s play was quite disappointing. Mario Mandzukic didn’t have much of an impact against an aging center back pairing he should have tore apart. Ivan Rakitic didn’t particularly impress me either, sending in a couple poor efforts on set-pieces, and when two of your three stars don’t show up, there’s not much you can do. Only Luka Modric lived up to his billing in my eyes, showing strength in possession I hadn’t seen from him before. Seeing their campaign end with a late red card was fitting for the squad, which will be massively disappointed not to qualify after starting so well in their opener against Brazil.
The two round of 16 games set up today look appetizing, as I look forward to watching Brazil having to defend Chile’s pace – they could struggle with it like they did in the beginning of their opener. The Netherlands and Mexico should also provide a great game, as both teams are in impressive form, surprising many around the world with their play at the World Cup.
Lastly, why don’t any current American athletes have nicknames like Oribe “The Brush” Peralta? I don’t know where that comes from, but it’s a much more interesting nickname than anything we’d come up with in the U.S. Nicknames here are getting increasingly driven by a player’s name (i.e. D-Wade, Melo, Johnny Football) and we need to start being more creative. There used to more great nicknames in American sports, but they are dying out. Let’s see some more creativity.
Mexico now joins Costa Rica as the second CONCACAF side in the knockout stages, as the confederation has exceeded all expectations thus far. We can only hope the U.S. will be able to join them. At least Mexico still owes us a thank you for getting them here in the first place.