Mexico downed Croatia 3-1 to book their place in the World Cup's knockout stages. After a slow start El Tri grew into the game, and were good value for their victory by the final whistle. Finishing runners-up behind Brazil in Group A, they'll play the Netherlands in the Round of 16. Croatia, meanwhile, are heading home.
The first half of the match was a cagey one, with Mexico unsurprisingly looking a little more defensive than they had in their previous couple of group games. They knew that just a draw would be enough to progress. Their wing-backs sat back rather than pushed high, and the result was Croatia saw much of the early possession. However, despite a string of early corner kicks, Niko Kovač's side couldn't convert their time on the ball into any meaningful opportunities.
In fact, it was Mexico's quick counter-attacking that created the better chances. The first was undoubtedly the most spectacular, with midfielder Héctor Herrera cracking a long-range effort against the crossbar after 16 minutes. Within five minutes on-form striker Oribe Peralta was threaded through on goal, though he scuffed his effort wide from a tight angle. By the halftime break neither side had recorded a single shot on target, though Mexico looked more impressive.
The second half continued in a similar fashion, with Croatia looking threatening early on but Mexico always looking to pose a threat on the break. It didn't take long for Kovač to switch things around in a bid to find the goal his side needed to progress, withdrawing defender Šime Vrsaljko for attacking midfielder Mateo Kovačić. Mexico weren't intimidated, and soon Miguel Herrera introduced striker Javier Hernández up front. El Tri looked confident, and again seized the initiative.
Just past the hour they should've had a penalty when Andrés Guardado's powerful effort in the area was blocked by the arms of Darijo Srna, though the referee ignored Mexico's protests and adjudged no offence to have been committed. Unperturbed, they continued pushing for the lead, and eventually had their reward inside the final 20 minutes, with captain Rafael Márquez leaping to head Herrera's corner beyond Pletikosa to break the deadlock.
It was 2-0 within a couple of minutes, with Croatia punished for throwing everyone forward in attack. Andrés Guardado found himself free in the penalty area to lash a shot past Pletikosa. Croatia disintegrated completely at the back, and Hernández was able to add a third inside the final 10 minutes, nodding home a flick-on off another corner.
Croatia did still manage to score when Ivan Perišić got in behind to slot past Guillermo Ochoa in the 87th minute, though their celebrations were quickly spoiled by a high challenge by striker Ante Rebić. He lifted his studs to Mexican substitute Carlos Peña, and was promptly sent off. Still, that didn't manage to spoil the Mexican party, with El Tri heading into the knockout stages for a sixth consecutive World Cup.
Croatia: Pletikosa; Vrsaljko (Kovačić 58'), Lovren, Ćorluka, Srna; Pranjić (Jelavić 74'), Rakitić, Modrić; Olić (Rebić 69'), Mandžukić, Perišić.
Goals: Perišić (87').
Mexico: Ochoa, Moreno, Márquez, Rodríguez; Layún, Guardado (Fabián 84'), Vázquez, Herrera, Aguilar; Peralta (Peña 79'), dos Santos (Hernández 62').
Goals: Márquez (72'), Guardado (75'), Hernández (82').