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Mexico’s 2-1 victory over South Korea silences critics

June 23, 2018
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Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates beside Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, left, at the end of the group F match between Mexico and South Korea at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — The criticism of Mexico’s national team heading into the World Cup was loud and scathing. The answer has been emphatic.

The Mexicans won their second straight match at the tournament, beating South Korea 2-1 Saturday to move ever closer to a spot in the round of 16.

“We didn’t listen to the criticism,” said Javier Hernandez, one of the scorers against South Korea. “It was just noise.”

Mexico opened its World Cup by upsetting defending champion Germany 1-0. A second victory on Saturday gives it six points and a chance to win Group F on Wednesday when the team faces Sweden.

“We want the Mexican people to enjoy this. We are going to enjoy it,” Hernandez said. “But as of tomorrow we will be working hard thinking about Sweden and regardless of the results of the matches against Germany and South Korea, we are going to go out there to get the three points.”

Hernandez and Carlos Vela scored a goal each at Rostov Arena. Vela converted from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Jang Hyun-soo handled the ball while trying to stop a cross from Andres Guardado.

Hernandez added the second in the 66th, scoring his 50th goal for Mexico. He hit the ball low past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo after collecting a pass from Hirving Lozano.

“We have beaten two brilliant and complicated teams, Germany and South Korea,” Hernandez said. “Our talent and hard work have paid off.”

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he prepared more for the match against South Korea than for the game against Germany.

“Very often when you play countries or teams with less of a footballing history, human beings tend to rest on their laurels a little bit. They tend to relax, they tend to lose focus, so every weekend, every match, we insist on being fully focused on not losing that important message,” Osorio said. “We’ve received a lot of praise, we the team, and we’ve tried to remain focused.”

Son Heung-min scored a consolation goal for South Korea in injury time, sending a powerful shot past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

The South Koreans, who have lost their opening two matches, kept Ochoa under pressure throughout the match with Son often out-sprinting the Mexican defense.

“I think our players had a game they will not regret,” South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong. “All of the players became one, and they did their utmost until the very last minute.”

Mexico relied on keeping possession and long-range shots, with a powerful attempt from Guardado forcing an athletic save from Jo in the second half. A volley from Vela skimmed the bar minutes later.

Mexican fans avoided using a chant, which is considered to be homophobic by FIFA, against the opposing goalkeeper. The chant earned the country’s soccer federation a fine after the previous match.

GROUP DYNAMICS

Mexico will face Sweden on Wednesday in Yekaterinburg with a chance to win Group F, a prospect that could set up a match against Brazil in the round of 16.

South Korea will face Germany at the same time in Kazan.

HISTORY

Mexico has reached the round of 16 in six straight World Cups, but the team has not advanced to the quarterfinals since playing at home in 1986.

Winning the group with three straight victories will be a good sign, but getting past the next round is the ultimate goal.

IN THE CROWD

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in Russia on an official visit, attended the match at Rostov Arena.

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Associated Press writer Leon Felipe Giron contributed to this report.

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Follow Gatopoulos at https://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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