VELA FINALLY MAKING HIS MARK
It’s safe to say Carlos Vela hasn’t quite made the mark on the footballing world he once promised he would at Arsenal – who signed him when he was just 16 in 2005.
Eleven goals were netted in 62 outings over three years, before a nomadic path was trodden to West Brom, Real Sociedad and currently Los Angeles FC.
Even at national team level, his influence has been rather tepid. But he has burst into life in Russia.
With three key passes, an 81.8 pass success rate (third best among starters) and two dribbles, Vela was as red hot as a Habanero chilli Mexico is famous for in the 1-0 win against Germany.
Three more key passes followed and even two aerial battles were won in a war with the Taegeuk Warriors, as he opened the scoring from the penalty spot.
It may be a little late, but the 29-year-old is finally making his mark for Mexico.
KOREA LEFT TO DAMN NAM DECISION
Son Heung-min is an incredible talent, but for a nation to pin all their hopes on one player is asking for trouble.
Shin Tae-yong decided against taking Nam Tae-hee to Russia, a player of similar class.
The Al Duhail playmaker has been one of the standout foreign stars in Middle East football for years and could have helped Son shoulder responsibility in Russia.
Instead, Shin picked former Barcelona protege Lee Seung-woo, but the 20-year-old failed to shine.
Hwang Hee-chan looked fairly menacing against Mexico but otherwise Korea have been far too reliant on Spurs superstar Son.
He happily carries the weighty Korean creative and goalscoring burden, but receives precious little help.
He strived but struggled to affect the outcome here. Nam’s inclusion would undoubtedly have rectified this.
CAN MEXICO GET OVER THE WALL?
The Mexicans boast a proud World Cup pedigree, having twice reached the quarter-finals – on home soil in 1970 and 1986.
Forays outside of the homeland, however, have been less comfortable, with six successive trips seeing El Tri try and fail to get back into the last eight – exiting each time at the round of 16 stage.
From 1994-2014 they were unable to get past this point, but Juan Carlos Osorio has steered his side into unfamiliar territory. Only once previously have they won their opening two matches at the World Cup (2002).
They are in fine form and have their most talented forwards in Hernandez, Vela and Hirving Lozano firing – as well as a wealth of experience to back them up.
Beat Sweden and no-one will want to stand between them and that coveted quarter-final spot.
Mexico made it two wins in two to top Group F after a 2-1 win over South Korea at the World Cup.
Carlos Vela scored the opener at the Rostov Arena from the spot in the 26th minute before playing in Javier Hernandez for Mexico’s second in the 66th minute.
Tottenham’s Son Heung-min pulled on back for the Koreans late on with a stunning strike from range.
Here, we look at how the Mexican players performed.
STARTING XI (4-4-2)
Cho Hyun-woo – Made a good finger-tip save to deny Layun in the first half. Stretched himself to keep out Guardado’s shot from the edge of the box in the second period as well. 6
Lee Yong – Had the unenviable task of attempting to keep Lozano quiet and lost more duels than he won. No surprise that he committed the most fouls in the process and was eventually booked. 4
Jang Hyun-soo – Had to shuttle across to deal with Lozano on occasion and had mixed results. Gave away the penalty as Guardado’s cross struck his outstretched hand. 4
Kim Young-gwon – The centre-back didn’t hold back when he flew into a couple of challenges and earned himself a booking. Was decent with the ball at his feet though and sprayed it around reasonably well. 5
Kim Min-woo – More or less coped with Layun on his side but his main contribution was playing long balls forward down the left channel for the likes of Hwang and Son to chase down. 6
Moon Seon-min – Tracked back to help deal with Lozano on occasion. Had a couple of shots that failed to find the target and created a half-chance before he was replaced for the final 15 minutes. 6
Ju Se-Jong – Put in a disappointing performance in the middle of the park. Gave the ball away regularly as his passing was poor. He was better without possession though, winning the ball on a few occasions. 5
Ki Sung-yueng – Had a header from a corner tipped over by Ochoa. Was more influential in the second half with his passing. Tested the keeper again with a powerful effort and made a vital block as the last man to deny Lozano. 7
Lee Jae-sung – Was the more advanced of the two central midfielders to start with but put himself about and won a few tackles. Played the ball through for the forwards at times and had a few shots himself. 6
Hwang Hee-chan – Was a live wire down the left wing, causing Edson Alvarez plenty of problems with his trickery early on. Was one of Korea’s main threats going forward. 6
Son Heung-min – A strong runner up front, he came alive on the counter-attack. Had a couple of shots blocked and was denied by Ochoa after breaking clear. Good delivery from set-pieces as well. Scored with a phenomenal strike at the death. 7
Lee Seung-Woo – Replaced Ju Se-Jong in the 64th minute on the left side of midfield and played a few good passes forward. 6
Jung Woo-Young – Was introduced in place of Moon Seon-Min in the 77th minute and didn’t make an impact. N/A
Hong Chul – Came on for Kim Min-Woo in the dying moments and only had a few passes to make before the final whistle. N/A
Their identical 2-1 losses to Japan and Senegal respectively means one of these two sides could be knocked out depending on Sunday’s result; neither can afford a loss.
Here are three talking points ahead of the game.
GROUP FAVOURITES FACING EARLY EXIT
When the draw was made for this group, everyone expected Colombia and Poland to get through to the knockout stages. The match between the two was thought to be the one that would determine who won the group.
Yet both lost their opening games, and now face each other with their World Cup campaigns on the line. If Japan-Senegal ends in a draw in the earlier game of the day, then a loss here will be fatal to the defeated side’s hopes of qualifying for the round of 16.
A draw may actually suit both sides, even if it leaves them both with only a point apiece heading into their final games. That would likely mean a win in their respective last games would be enough to qualify, although goal difference may come into play and still eliminate one or both of them.
It’s unlikely that either manager is setting his side out for anything less than a win, especially as Senegal and Japan have proven they will not be easy games for the two more fancied sides. But both Colombia and Poland will likely take the scenario of knowing a win in their final game all but guarantees qualification.
PLENTY OF POSITIVES FOR COLOMBIA
Colombia bossed the first half of their game against Japan despite being a man down after Carlos Sanchez’s early red card. Although they ultimately ended up losing, there were plenty of positives to take from the display, and they’re likely going into this game with more confidence than their opponents.
They should also be buoyed by the probable return to full fitness of talisman James Rodriguez, who was only selected as a substitute in the previous game due to an injury.
He’ll likely come in for Jose Izquierdo, and an attack of Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, and their goalscoring hero from the first game, Juan Quintero, playing in support of Radamel Falcao certainly looks formidable.
James will be able to do what his fellow playmakers weren’t quite against Japan – get the best out of Falcao. The forward endured a tough game in the opener, displaying trademark work ethic and keeping the Japanese defence honest but never quite sparking into life.
On the other hand, Poland have less to be positive about reflecting upon their opening game. They struggled to break Senegal down and were porous defensively. They have to do much more to improve than their opponents.
LEWANDOWSKI NEEDS TO STEP UP
Robert Lewandowski was the top scorer in European qualifying for the World Cup. But he was marshalled well by Senegal’s defence in Poland’s first game, and failed to find a genuine chance on goal.
But given his status as Poland’s best player and captain, he has to do more. He does thrive best on good service, but this is a striker capable of creating chances for himself, or at the very least unleashing some fierce long-range strikes.
But none of those qualities were on show against Senegal, bar the wonderful save he brought out of Senegal stopper Khadim N’Diaye from a free-kick early in the second half. If he has another game like that against Colombia, Poland can say good-bye to their chances of progressing further in Russia.
Colombia’s defence will be no different to Senegal’s. Davinson Sanchez had a shaky game against Japan, but emerged with some credit, while Oscar Murillo was a towering presence at the back. The challenge of dealing with Lewandowski is one both will relish.
Lewandowski can have an inspirational effect on the rest of his side, but not if he can’t improve on his performance from Poland’s opener. The Bayern Munich striker will need to rise to the occasion. His team need him to, desperately.